Stage Door: 'Matilda,' 'Bloomsday' and More

'Matilda the Musical' wraps up its joyous run at the Aronoff Sunday, while 'Bloomsday' tells a poignant story about recapturing love at Ensemble Theatre.

click to enlarge All three Matildas: Jenna Weir, Gabby Gutierrez and Jaime MacLean - Photo: © Tim Trumble
Photo: © Tim Trumble
All three Matildas: Jenna Weir, Gabby Gutierrez and Jaime MacLean
The touring production of the Broadway hit Matilda the Musical wraps up its run at the Aronoff Center on Sunday. The Tony Award-winning show based on Roald Dahl’s unusual book that appeals to adults and smart children is an unusual piece of musical theater. It’s more tart than sweet, despite the fact that there are more kids than adults onstage. Most of the adults in the story, especially Matilda’s idiotic parents (Matt Harrington and Darcy Stewart), are such poor specimens of humanity that you might imagine the younger set doesn’t have a chance.

But Matilda (played by three young actresses — I saw Jaime Maclean, but I suspect that Gabby Gutierrez and Jenna Weir are equally good in other performances), who loves to read and tell stories, wins out in the end, getting revenge on Miss Trunchbull (Dan Chameroy), the abusive school headmistress, with the strength of her mind. She is helped by two more commendable adults, her loving if timid teacher Miss Honey (Jennifer Bowles, a University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music musical theater grad) and Mrs. Phelps (Keisha T. Fraser), a slightly daffy librarian. But the show is most entertaining simply for the joyous energy and astonishing talent brought by the youngsters, who sing, dance and act as if they’ve been doing it for years. Because the show originated in England, everyone has some kind of British accent — some more understandable than others — so catching lyrics and lines can be a bit of a challenge. But watching Matilda and her classmates being naughty and “revolting” makes it all worthwhile. Tickets: 513-621-2787.

If you like a poignant story about falling in love and trying to recapture it later, Steven Dietz’s charming Bloomsday at Ensemble Theatre is the show for you. It unfolds against the backdrop of James Joyce’s legendary and formidable epic novel Ulysses, a tale stuffed full of everyday life in 1904 Dublin. In Dietz’s conceit, Robert, an American, has yearned for 35 years to reconnect with Caithleen, an Irish lass who captured his heart when he was 20 during a “Bloomsday” walking tour rooted in Joyce’s novel. The story slides back and forth in time fluidly with two actors portraying Robert (Barry Mulholland and Patrick Phillips) and Caithleen (Annie Fitzpatrick and Becca Howell) at ages 55 and 20, sometimes with younger and older selves interacting. With clear surefooted staging by Michael Evan Haney, it’s a fascinating exploration of emotions across a long stretch of time, with a dose of maturity. People fall in love with this kind of show, even though there’s a dose of heartbreak before it’s over. But it feels good. Through April 23. Tickets: 513-421-3555.

The world premiere of Jen Silverman’s All the Roads Home continues at the Cincinnati Playhouse’s Shelterhouse Theater until April 23. It’s about three generations in a family, tales of young women all yearning to get out from under the close watch of a small town — and what they learn as they play their escape. As the title implies, it’s not what they initially imagine — and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Interestingly staged with four actors playing different roles in different time periods. Silverman is one of the most produced young playwrights in America today, so this is an important production by someone we’ll be hearing more from as time goes by. Tickets: 513-421-3888.

It’s the final weekend for two productions I can personally recommend. Cincinnati Shakespeare’s staging of Lorraine Hansberry’s classic 1959 drama A Raisin in the Sunat Cincy Shakes through April 15, showcases some of Cincinnati’s best African-American stage talent. Well worth seeing. Tickets: 513-381-7723.

Clifton Players is presenting John Pollono’s Small Engine Repair, the story of three buddies who are going nowhere fast. They’re funny and sharp, but events take a very dark turn when some revenge is required. Well acted, but go only if you’re prepared for some coarse language and offensive physical action. At Clifton Performance Theatre on Ludlow. Tickets: 513-813-7469.

Read my coverage of the 41st Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville in my April 12 Curtain Call column, with comments about additional shows on CityBeat’s arts blog.

Rick Pender’s STAGE DOOR blog appears here every Friday. Find more theater reviews and feature stories here. 

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