Act Too Pro presents:
Matilda the Musical (Aug. 2 - 11; All ages)
Franklin Theatre
419 Main St., Franklin
615-538-2076 | franklintheatre.com
Remaining showtimes: Wed - Fri 7 p.m., Sat 12 & 6 p.m., Sun 2 p.m.
Tickets: $15 - $49

One of Roald Dahl's most beloved characters and stories is alive and well onstage at the Franklin Theatre this week. Act Too Pro — the professional extension of the Act Too Players — delivers an energetic romp through the stage adaptation of Dahl's 1988 children's novel that celebrates the anarchy of children.

Act Too's production boasts a sizable roster of children in two revolving casts — it's one of the cool things about the company's "Pro" leg, giving kids an opportunity to be onstage in a more professional-caliber show. On opening night, Reese Benton did a brilliant job playing the story's central character, Matilda Wormwood (Reagan Schmicker rotates the role with her). Benton brings a fun energy to the precocious 5-year-old high-level reader with a gift of telekinetic powers. She shines during her musical numbers, including "Naughty," one of the show's most notable songs, and she's impressive in pulling off the British accent, too.

In addition to Benton, other notable kids in the cast who deliver funny, memorable moments include Joey Graffagnino as chocolate cake-eating, big-burping Bruce Bogtrotter and Emma Singleton as the pigtail-bearing Amanda Thripp.

Considering the smallness of the Franklin Theatre stage, Anthony Popolo's colorful, compact set design works well for all scenes — the Wormwoods' home, the library, the school, the playground and Miss Honey's abode.

Going in, the biggest thing I was curious about was how Act Too was going to present "When I Grow Up." On Broadway and West End (where Matilda first appeared onstage), this number found the children gliding high over the stage on large swings — an unforgettable, breathtaking, beautiful theatrical moment. Replicating that in the Franklin Theatre is too challenging, perhaps. However, Act Too finds a creative way to get around it while still capturing the juxtaposition of kids being kids while fantasizing about their future grown-up selves. Having the kids parade around the stage in a giant circle while hoisting a giant, bright parachute that other children are running under captures the moment well while adding an additional splash of color to the set.

Standout performances from the adult cast include longtime local favorite Megan Murphy Chambers as Mrs. Wormwood. Chambers thrives in comical roles, and this one is no exception. Her scenes with Mrs. Wormwood's narcissitic dance partner Rudolpho (Mike Baum) provide some the funniest moments in the production. Likewise, Thomas Demarcus (the only Actors Equity Association member in the cast) delivers a skillful approach to the "children-are-maggots" mentality of Matilda's mean headmistress Agatha Trunchbull.

A little further depth from Director Sondra Morton would serve the show well in regard to the other adult cast. In Dahl's stories, it's usually the adults who are the villains; they're either sucking the magic out of childhood or simply representing an inevitable grim journey into adulthood. At times, Jeremy Maxwell's portrayal of Mr. Wormwood comes off more cartoon-like than mean and nasty. That sinister side of Mr. Wormwood is important (in and of itself when done right presents its own comical effect), especially in regard to the relationship between Matilda and Miss Honey (Erica Haines). Matilda's home life needs to feel a litle more devastating to her than it comes across in the show.

Miss Honey and Matilda's relationship in the story is significant, since Matilda winds up living with her at the end of the story. It should be a powerful moment that the audience champions, but Act Too's approach presents a relationship that's too thin. There's not quite enough emotional connection between these two characters to make it believable enough at the end.

That said, don't get me wrong. Act Too Pro's Matilda is overall a very good production and a fun theatrical outing for your entire family. The best part of the musical is the music itself, and the entire cast of adults and kids excel in this arena, giving the audience a highly entertaining experience.

Kids will relate to how Matilda's confidence and self-esteem are rooted in the power of words and language. Ultimately, this story is about empowerment, and that message is even more compelling coming from a child's perspective.