‘Matilda’ leaves mark on and off the stage

I write to encourage our community to enjoy the magnificent production of “Matilda,” presented at the convention hall by Hawaii Children’s Theatre.

This kind of show is made up of many parts, and every part hits the mark. The expert and imaginative lighting and projections designed by wizard Steve Whitney and his crew are as sophisticated as I’ve seen on that stage.

Equally beautiful are the harmonies of the actors’ singing, thanks to master musician Alan Van Zee. Van Zee’s orchestra is hidden behind a scrim, a good choice for vocal/orchestra balance.

There are many sets of costumes, from the shiny black, sequined Latino dancers to the Crunchem students uniforms, and especially the gaudily loud things worn by Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood.

Then, of course, there are the sets. I’ve never seen sets designed quite like this. Not only are the luminous colors fascinating, but the very odd way the pieces fit together keep us guessing.

Donnie Maione and Steven Whitney created pieces 20 feet tall as well as hugging low to the floor. Though there are many pieces, they are rolled on and off with split-second precision by kids in the cast.

Then, of course, there is the excellent cast.

Erin Gaines’ Miss Honey can break your heart with her poignant, beautiful singing. Larry Richardson and Sabryn Rudinoff as the trashy parents of Matilda — totally trashy.

The night I saw the show, Matilda (which is double cast) was played by 10-year-old Rain Barrett Verd. When the crowd parted and she walked out, I was taken by this small girl. Then she started singing and blew us all away: in tune, rhythmically precise, strongly projected, and deeply felt.

Other fine performances come from Julia Benson as the librarian, Isaac Dubey in every one of his many roles. In fact, there are many solo parts to the show that add richness.

And, then, of course, there is the evil, sadistic Headmistress Trunchbull. It is a tour de force role, and actor Taj Gutierrez takes us all on the entire tour, in a blazingly brilliant performance.

I’ve seen many of the shows directed by friend Carol Culver, and may I be so bold as to suggest that this is her finest work yet? Talk about juggling a basket full of balls! Not easy. Every scene is full of comedic bits and movement that keep one’s eyes glued to the stage. It takes a master to create a show of such detail and finesse. And her choreography … simply wonderful.

And, finally, I read in the program that producer Debra Blachowiak is, as she says, “handing in her broom.” That can only be a major loss to theatre on Kauai. I’ve worked with her many times. With her partnership, I found myself growing as a director and an artist. In our theatre community, she is a giant.


Arnold Meister is a resident of Koloa.

  1. Steve Whitney November 26, 2019 1:12 pm Reply

    WOW! Thank you Arnold for the incredible column on the HCT Production of Matilda!

    As the Technical Director, I want to recognize some of the individuals described as “Steve Whitney and his crew”. They are the best. The lighting designer is Sam Whitney. He is responsible for the design, installation, programming, and execution of the lighting for Matilda. The “acrobat story” animation and handwriting effects were created by the multitalented Kendall Schmidt. The Trunchbull office video wall was created by amazing local artist Wayne Zebzda. Holly Rudinoff is the fabulous scenic artist who painted the entire set including the countless scrabble pieces! Congratulations to everyone involved in Matilda!

    Steve Whitney
    Technical Director, Matilda
    Hawaii Children’s Theatre

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