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Matilda the Musical

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The tour of Matilda has arrived at the Ahmanson Theatre with Roald Dahl’s quirky and often nightmarish darkness intact. Also discernible beneath the cartoon sets and costumes is Dahl’s understanding, shared with Dickens, of the vast and often scary gulf between children and adults.

A musical hit both in London and then in New York, Matilda introduces us to the titular heroine at the moment of her birth. The fact that her mother (Cassie Silva) was too focused on her ballroom dancing to notice she was pregnant, and that her father (Quinn Mattfeld) refuses to admit that she’s female, is only the beginning of her problems. Growing up in a family of determinedly ignorant people is a lonely existence for Matilda (Mia Sinclair Jenness at the opening performance). But she spends as much time as they will allow with her books—teaching herself mathematics and reading (in more languages than English). The only friend she has is the sympathetic neighborhood librarian, Miss Phelps (Ora Jones) who loves to listen to the fanciful-seeming stories Matilda tells.

Upon entering school, Matilda meets her greatest supporter, Miss Honey (Jennifer Blood) as well as her nemesis, Miss Trunchbull (Bryce Ryness). While the adult world, excepting Miss Honey and Miss Phelps, is determined to put down Matilda’s brilliance at all costs, the girl is fearless and imbued with an innate sense of fairness which doesn’t hesitate to seek revenge. It doesn’t hurt that she develops a temporary power of telekinesis.

Matthew Warchus has directed the complex production with a palpable feel for the pain that being different can bring. And he hasn’t stinted on the over-the-top humor, which also peppers Dennis Kelly’s book. Tim Minchin’s score and lyrics are perfectly adequate, but don’t provide any stand out musical moments. Rob Howell’s clever set and costume designs seem to have stepped right out of Dahl’s imagination, and Peter Darling’s propulsive choreography is both eye-catching and an admirably cohesive part of the storytelling.

The main problem with the production is Simon Baker’s relentlessly over-amplified sound design which seems to be permanently set at 11. Aside from the general aural assault, the volume makes picking up the lyrics and the dialog difficult. This is only exacerbated by the British accents and the treble voices of the children. I’m afraid that a good 70% of what the children said and sang, including Matilda, was unintelligible from my seat.

Bryce Ryness is a toweringly hideous Trunchbull, en travesti, who gets his laughs without actually leaving teeth marks in the scenery. Jennifer Blood’s warmly voiced and appealingly acted Miss Honey proves a welcome shaft of light in Matilda’s miserable existence. As Matilda’s father, Mr Wormwood, the exuberant Quinn Mattfeld (a longtime favorite from many seasons at the Utah Shakespeare Fesitval) wrings every bit of humor from the role while finding a moment of humanity for the character at the end. As his shrill and empty-headed wife, Cassie Silva easily takes us along with her dreams of ballroom grandeur. As previously noted, the sound issue kept me from understanding a good part of what Mia Sinclair Jenness’ Matilda said. But she must be doing something right if I could still follow her thoughts and cheer her on to victory.

Ahmanson Theatre   May 29 – July 12, 2015



Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”


Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.