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Theatre Reviews: "Matilda the Musical" & "Small Engine Repair"

The River City News's Jackie Demaline has a pair of theatre reviews:

Matilda the Musical, through April 16, Broadway in Cincinnati Aronoff Center, 650 Walnut St., downtown Cincinnati.

Talk about a children’s musical for today’s kids. Matilda the Musical, based on Roald Dahl’s classic, is joyously subversive in its message that books are better than television and imagination is everything.

British to the bone, this tale of five-year old Matilda (Jaime MacLean has no trouble holding the Aronoff stage and belting to the rafters) is told in the grand spirit of music hall, in a series of vignettes.

Poor, brilliant Matilda has a grotesque family (her scam artist father wears a green plaid suit, her garish mother is all about the tango, they’re both loons) who send her to a prison-like school with a motto that translates (from the Latin) to “Children are maggots.”

Again saluting British music hall, the monstrous headmistress Trunchbull is played by a man, Dan Chameroy, with splendid malicious glee.

Matilda is smartly adapted from Dahl’s sly story, which happily celebrates a little girl happy to lead a revolution and watch out for her nasty streak. The design-work is super, playing with color and dark shadows, always in the spirit of the tale being told.

The gang of kids sing and dance up a storm – at and on their desks and even on swings(!) - and are a lot madder about their lot in life than Annie’s orphans (Probably the lasting effect of Charles Dickens on the British psyche). You gotta love kids who fight the good fight.

This touring show looks like the best of Broadway – and there’s a happy ending!

Tickets $30-$96 (plus fees ranging from $10.45-$13.70 per ticket.) 513-621-2787 and here.

Small Engine Repair, through April 15. Clifton Players/Untethered Theater, Clifton Performance Theatre, 404 Ludlow Ave., Clifton.

Tiny Clifton Players hits the mark again with Small Engine Repair, a viciously funny one-act about a memorable evening with three old pals who have fallen out to varying degrees, but who discover, lubricated by enough Johnny Walker, that old friends are the best friends.

The question of the night: What the hell is going on in Manchester, New Hampshire?

Nathan Neorr is Frank, and the action is set at his greasy, clearly less-than-successful garage which seems like it’s a couple blocks up the street from the fishing dock in Manchester by the Sea. It’s easy to envision playwright John Pollono’s trio of losers sitting at the local diner at the table next to Kennth Lonergan’s Lee Chandler – if tragic Lee could make himself step into the diner.

One evening, Frank invites over his high school pals Packie (Charlie Roetting), a slacker who resides in his mother’s basement, and Swaino (Carter Bratton, founding member of Untethered), the kind of loser who tells himself he’s a winner.

If you’re a fan of local indie theater, you’ve seen all of them in strong performances, and they play wonderfully together, with great energy and purpose, attuned to what makes the script crazy and funny and creepy. When they down shots of whiskey together – bliss.

Direction is all important here, and this play and production are woven together by Jared Doren, one of the most skilled directors in Cincinnati’s small pro scene. See his name – buy a ticket.

Doren also designs with set dressing by Christine Dye, creating an environment so right you can practically smell the place.

Their friendship has fallen away in the years since high school. So why this night for a reunion? Time will tell, but in the meantime they talk of many things, including sex, social media, life. All three play a vital role as the action progresses.

Small Engine Repair delivers big - a script that keeps the dark laughs coming, even as it packs a moral punch that stays with you as you leave the theater; terrific ensemble work from the three guys, joined by richy-rich and privileged college punk and casual drug dealer Chad (baby-faced Rupert Spraul).

Tickets: $25 seniors $20, students $15. (Processing fee $1.80.) (BOGO info and tickets available by phone only.) 513-813-7469 and here.