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“Matilda” rocks it at SASA

Reviewer: Janet Martineau

Venue: Saginaw Arts and Sciences Academy

Something really cool and extraordinary happened Friday night (April 12) in Saginaw, and it repeats tonight.

A massive staged production of Roald Dahl’s “Matilda The Musical” featuring — and sit down for this — 20 members of the Saginaw Youth Choir, 22 members of the Saginaw Arts and Sciences vocal studies program, 18 members of the Saginaw Arts and Sciences dance program, and two adults.

And it is good, really good. Repeats tonight at 6pm. Tickets at the door a paltry $10.

But can you imagine the effort this whole thing took took from Stage and Music Director Emerald Joiner-Christensen —  marshaling that many youths on the SASA stage into a production that shines.

It probably helps that she is the conductor of the Saginaw Youth Choir, sponsored by the Saginaw Choral Society, AND teaches at SASA. She also is a SASA grad. But still.

In nearly 50 years of reviewing, we have only reviewed one student production – many years  ago when Heritage High School rocked the community with its production of  “Les Miserables” — with my belief young impressionable children in school plays  should not be subjected to critical commentary.

Enter the second one.

The only thing to criticize here is a consistent failure of whoever was running  sound in monitoring the microphones. It was a rather serious one Friday night, but the show excelled anyway.

Stand outs were the costuming for all (no credit given), the INCREDIBLE dancers and their choreography by SASA teacher Meagan Bublitz, the clever “set” that featured changing projections and some writing magic, the use of two performances areas to the left and right wings of the stage, the TOTAL engagement of every student on that stage, the sight gags, the 2 1/2 hour run time that flew by.

Even the mistakes were noteworthy. A dropped set piece that hit with an incredible thud and looked like it was going to topple over, but didn’t. Dancers on scooters who did topple over or had trouble maneuvering the machines but who recovered beautifully and with grace.

Add to the joy of everyone on Friday night, there was a youngster in the audience who often repeated words that were said on the stage. What a delight.

Basically, the storyline is a rather bizarre and often strange story of an incredibly bright and creative young girl whose family is verbally abusive and mocks her love of books and reading. She also endures a bully school principal who mistreats her (and everybody). But don’t worry,  it all works out in the end thanks to a caring teacher, the school librarian and the Bulgarian mafia.

Addison Hurley portrays Matilda and the line load for this youngster is monumental. She was all over that stage: singing, talking, and narrating the stories her character creates in her head. Sadly, the microphone management did not match her performance skills. But she still shone.

Dancer Jayden Bryant gave a new meaning to leg lifts in a scene with Matilda’s mother. Dean Thomas delivered  an animated  long extended chocolate gas burp accompanied by a dancer wafting through with its smell. Hilarious. Thomas also delivered a beautiful vocal solo. Rylie Stowe was ever so sweet as the supportive teacher and her song “My Home”  just beautiful. Cora Wedding was something else, and we mean that positively, as Matilda’s  wacky mother and with Bryant delivered a dynamite performance of “Loud.”

One of the two adults in the show is Travis Christensen as the big boobed  and statuesque school principal. Just a horrific person, but a brilliant performance vocally and in acting skills. Also happens to be the director’s  husband.

But we cannot say enough about the entire costumed cast, seated on stage the entire time. Many of them didn’t have speaking parts; were just part of the general scene and production numbers singing. But  their total engagement, movement, singing in unison in the production numbers and with good diction, faces in reacting to things around them was THE hallmark of the production. Talk about superb direction.

One of the smallest girls, and we never could figure out her name, was so into her  performance it was hard to take eyes off of her. Kinda over the top but also utterly charming.

The near capacity audience on Friday night came bearing flowers and gift bags for the performers.

It was all a wonderful companion tonThursday night’s performance of violin virtuoso  and long time international star Itzhak Perlman at the Temple Theatre and  this one featuring youngsters on their way up in the world of entertainment at a local school. Both excellent and noteworthy.

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