Matilda, the Musical at Slidell Little Theatre
[Knowing the production would have closed prior to this publication date, I posted the following on Facebook the day after seeing Matilda, the Musical. I’m including it here to let readers know what’s happening in St. Tammany Parish.]
Congratulations to the cast and krewe of Slidell Little Theater‘s Matilda! Director Scott Sauber has created an absolutely magical production both in its stage artistry, which consistently conjures up breathtaking images through sheer imaginative theatrical legerdemain, and simply for its being able to bounce back after Hurricane Ida significantly damaged SLT’s building.
Sauber brings out the gothic darkness in Roald Dahl’s tale in a way I’ve not seen before but ingeniously layers it with the wild humor that’s a vital part of Dahl’s storytelling. So assured is Sauber’s grasp of this tale, including its romantic and supernatural elements, that he expertly pilots it through all of its tonal twists and turns, ever-ensuring that every member of his large cast delivers an emotionally heightened performance. There were moments throughout the production that were just SO good, I wanted to hit the Pause button, rewind things, and immediately play them back.
Teresa Fasone gives us a brilliantly complex Matilda Wormwood full of righteous indignation and heartfelt yearning, a young girl bursting with the need to tell stories to create an alternative universe to her miserable home life. Plus, Fasone sings wondrously with a clarion voice and shades the role with insightful acting ability letting Matilda’s inner thoughts dance lightly across her face. Fasone’s is a thoroughly captivating performance.
With a face that looks like an evil toad, John Giraud fashions an Agatha Trunchbull a little less frenetic than usual. With sibilant S’s and words stretched into extra syllables, his headmistress rises to Shakespearean evil, someone who truly enjoys torturing others; yet with his fat suit and overdone makeup we know not to take his marvelously mean creation too too seriously. Still, at times, Giraud did conjure up scary recollections of our most recent ex-president.
Rebecca McMillan makes Mrs. Wormwood deliciously coarse, concerned less about her child than her dance competitions, and sings her signature number Loud with full comic brio and snappy dance moves courtesy of choreographer Katie Peck whose assured work throughout fills the stage with joyousness, athleticism, and youthful independence.
Gary Gilmore and Trenton Gilmore create a knuckleheaded Wormwood pere and fils (recreating their real life father-and-son relationship) filled with comic glee and brash stupidity.
Madeleine Appel plays down Miss Honey’s needling insecurity (which sometimes causes her to be the wet dishrag of the show) and, instead, imbues her with so much warmth & compassion, and a beautiful singing voice, that you want to give her a big hug.
And while I suspect this is not the first time it’s been done, Sauber wisely gives both the role of Mrs. Wormwood’s slightly sleazy dance partner Rudolpho and the stalwart Escapologist to Clark Long, a Slidell native now living in Los Angeles, who’s temporarily back home and who fabulously embodies both of these very different characters. How he gets his legs to go in opposite directions making a 180 degree angle is beyond me.
Emily Rudner Thompson nicely brings out both the warmth and humor as the caring librarian Ms. Phelps; Emma St. Cyr is touching as the Acrobat; Nate Costantini displays a powerful set of perfectly pitched pipes as the cake-loving Bruce; while Jesi Abney’s knowing turn as Lavender, Matilda’s self-proclaimed best friend, adds further fun to the story. And each & every one of the other children and teenagers in Slidell add mightily to this miraculous Matilda.
Even if you saw Tulane Summer Lyric’s fantastic production in 2019 or Hahnville HS’s terrific one in 2020, just before the shutdown, do try to go to Slidell to see this one. While the audience last night was wildly enthusiastic, because of the production having to be rescheduled, not to mention that folks are, understandably, dealing with Ida-related challenges of their own, it was smaller than such an amazing production like this deserves.
If you want to support supremely talented local theater artists and escape into the singular world of Roald Dahl’s Matilda brought enchantingly to life by Sauber and Company, make sure you head to Slidell for today’s matinee or next weekend’s performances for a revoltingly magnificent time!
[Slidell Little Theatre’s next show Clue, a farce-meets-murder mystery inspired by the classic board game, has Miss Scarlett, Professor Plum, Mrs. White, Mr. Green, Mrs. Peacock, and Colonel Mustard trying to figure out “WHO did it, WHERE, and with WHAT?” It plays November 5-14. More info at https://www.slidelllittletheatre.org/html?PageId=167631]
Tootsie at the Saenger Theatre, November 9-14
[Tootsie comes to the Saenger Theatre next month. Here are excerpts from my May 2019 review of the original Broadway production.]
Tootsie, the smash 1982 movie starring Dustin Hoffman, while not gay-themed per se, certainly presaged our current obsession with gender identity and the fluidity of such. Though the tale of an out-of-work “difficult” actor who presents himself as a woman to nab a role is now approaching middle age, a new musical comedy based on it is the freshest show of the season.
Unlike the movie, which unfolded on a TV soap opera set, Broadway’s Michael Dorsey gets hired as Dorothy Michaels to play the Nurse in, natch, a Broadway-bound musical, a sequel to Romeo and Juliet. Suffice to say, it’s having problems.
Bookwriter Robert Horn has wisely kept all the fizzy wit and warmly touching moments of Larry Gelbart, Murray Schisgal and Don McGuire’s Oscar-nominated screenplay while finessing it to deepen its characters for today’s audiences, particularly Julie Nichols, the role created on screen by Jessica Lange, here the actress playing Juliet.
David Yazbek wrote the music and lyrics. Approaching Tootsie at the Marquis Theatre, my biggest question was would it be more like his pleasant but hardly earth-shattering The Full Monty? Or his sublime Tony winner The Band’s Visit with one of the most memorable scores ever composed?
Fortunately, it turned out to be the latter. Yazbek’s lyrics remain razor sharp and if his melodies are not quite on Band’s’ level, unlike most other recent musicals, they aptly reflect the characters and their moods, whether angsty, defiant or soul-searching, with individualistic precision. If I didn’t quite come out of the theater humming any of them, I think they bear repeated listenings and some, especially for Dorsey’s neurotic girlfriend (Teri Garr’s character), could go on to become comic standards for cabaret performers.
Scott Ellis’ assured direction keeps everything sailing along smoothly, aided by Denis Jones’ inventive choreography and William Ivey Long’s splendid costumes (how does Dorsey transform so quickly into Michaels and vice versa?).
Sure, you could wonder that no one notices Dorothy’s Adam’s apple or 5 o’clock shadow, let alone that her Social Security number and Actors’ Equity card come up as Michael’s, but don’t, and just enjoy this terrifically traditional, yet up-to-date show.
[The production coming to the Saenger stars Drew Becker as Michael Dorsey and is directed by Dave Solomon who was the associate director on Broadway; Denis Jones and William Ivey Long continue to provide the choreography and costumes, respectively. For more information and to purchase tickets, go to https://www.saengernola.com/shows/tootsie]
In addition to the tragic loss of life and homes caused by Hurricane Ida, the schedules of many theater companies in the Greater New Orleans area were tossed up in the air by the storm and have only now begun to settle back down. Here’s a rundown of what’s coming up in the next few weeks. As always, it’s best to check with the theater to make sure nothing has changed.
Due to Hurricane Ida, Jefferson Performing Arts Society’s production of the seasonally-appropriate musical The Addams Family has been rescheduled and will now run Oct. 22-31 at East Jefferson Auditorium (400 Phlox St., Metairie). More info and tickets at https://www.jpas.org/performance/the-addams-family/ In addition, Yasmina Reza’s Tony-winning dark comedy God of Carnage still has two more performances at JPAS’ Teatro Wego in Westwego, Oct. 8 at 7:30pm and Oct. 10 at 2:00pm. (https://www.jpas.org/performance/god-of-carnage/)
Because it will take Rivertown Theaters for the Performing Arts some time to repair the damage to its theater, they have moved Hello, Dolly! to the Solomon Theater at St. Martin’s School (225 Green Acres Rd., off Airline Hwy. in Metairie). Dolly finishes up its run this weekend with performances Oct. 8 at 7:30pm and Oct. 10 at 2:00pm. Cabaret, originally scheduled for the second half of October, will now run Jan. 7-23, replacing Nunsense 2. More info at https://www.rivertowntheaters.com/
One of the few productions that didn’t have to shuffle its dates, Dear Mr. Williams at Le Petit Theatre (616 St. Peter St.) is Bryan Batt’s coming-of-age one-man play set here in his native city. Batt intersperses personal tales and reminiscences with excerpts from Williams’ famous plays as well as his more obscure poetry and short stories for a revealing self-portrait. Opening Le Petit’s 105th season, Dear Mr. Williams plays Oct. 8–24. More info at https://www.lepetittheatre.com/listings/events/dear-mr-williams
August’s COVID surge had already shifted the Louisiana premiere of Wedding Secrets at Playmakers Theater (19106 Playmakers Rd., Covington) to Oct. 15-24. Though Playmakers sustained major damage from Ida to its roof as a result of fallen trees, the show, written and directed by Joe Starzyk, will still be going on as planned. Promising colliding in-laws, lounge singers & revolutionaries, drunken debauchery, and lots of secrets, this comedy sounds like just the thing to take your mind off your troubles. More info and tickets at https://playmakers-theater-05.webself.net/
Wendell Brunious, former leader of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, pays tribute to Louis Armstrong from Oct. 22 through Nov. 6 with Swing That Music at the WWII Museum’s Stage Door Canteen. The renowned trumpeter will present 90 minutes of jazz and stories about the poor boy from New Orleans who pioneered an entire genre of American music and led the export of it to the rest of the world. Tom Hook and a bevy of Crescent City ace musicians accompany Brunious. Tickets and more information at https://www.nationalww2museum.org/programs/swing-music-tribute-louis-armstrong
If you couldn’t make it to New York for the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Terrence Blanchard’s Fire Shut Up in My Bones, the first opera ever done there by a Black composer, then head to AMC Elmwood Palace 20 in Harahan for the Live HD broadcast on Saturday, Oct. 23, at 11:55am or Wednesday, Oct. 27, at 6:30pm for the rebroadcast. Fire Shut Up in My Bones is Blanchard and librettist Kasi Lemmons’ adaptation of Charles M. Blow’s memoir of growing up in a small Louisiana town, being sexually abused by a relative when he was a child, and coming to terms with his bisexuality.
After a five-week delay due to Ida, Tell It To Me Sweet, The NOLA Project’s fall show appearing in NOMA’s Sculpture Garden, will finally open on Oct. 29. Written by Brittany N. Williams and directed by Torey Hayward, the play, running until Nov. 14, will have you wander through spooky to strange in this brand-new look at five very old stories pulled from European and African American fairy tales and folklore. For further information go to https://www.nolaproject.com/tell-it-to-me-sweet
And not even a hurricane could blow vaxxed and waxed Bianca Del Rio off course. Her Unsanitized tour shall be bringing her back home as scheduled on Oct. 21 to the Orpheum Theater. To find some of the few tickets still available go to https://www.thebiancadelrio.com/unsanitized-tour The pandemic may be ending, but Bianca is just getting started. Or as she puts it “If you liked COVID-19, you’ll love BIANCA-21!”