Matilda the Musical, the 80th annual Dolphin Show at Northwestern University’s Cahn Auditorium is a delight and well worth seeing.

The Dolphin Show is renowned for being “America’s largest student-produced musical.” Choosing to produce a show where most of the characters are children might give one pause, but this cast nails it. The ensemble, referred to as ‘kids’ in the program, has a heavy lift and they deliver.

Tallulah Nouss plays Mrs. Wormwood and Elliott Hansen as Rudolpho in the Dolphin Show’s production of Matilda the Musical. Credit: Justin Barbin

But there are many other reasons to go see Matilda. Those reasons are Morgan Barber (Matilda Wormwood), Tallulah Nouss (Mrs. Wormwood), Nathan Hiykel (Mr. Wormwood), Matthew McGrory (Miss Honey) and Lauren Gunn (Agatha Trunchbull). 

Nouss and Hiykel as Matilda’s parents show up midway through the first song, Miracle, which sets up the story. The Wormwoods are about to become parents and they are not happy about it. Their characters are exaggerated examples of truly terrible parents. Nouss and Hiykel are excellent and are ably supported with loud and garish costumes that enhance their on-stage personalities. 

Nouss received the most prolonged and enthusiastic applause after her song and dance in Loud. As an actor, she has the whole package and is reason enough to see the show. Singing, dancing, strutting, cartwheeling – she brings Mrs. Wormwood’s vapid vanity to life.

Morgan Barber (as Matilda) in the Dolphin Show’s production of Matilda the Musical. Credit: Justin Barbin

Hiykel embodies Mr. Wormwood’s sleaziness with each twitch of his body. You want to hate Mr. Wormwood, but Hiykel is having too much fun portraying him. These primary characters help anchor the show. 

Barber is on stage for much of the show and while her shoulders are slight, she carries the burden effortlessly. She endures her unloving parents and finds solace in the library among books.

Whether singing from the lyra, the aerial hoop suspended on the stage, the sofa in her home or behind the desk in her schoolroom, her sweet voice comes through loud and clear. She is the moral backbone of the story.

Matilda’s teacher, Miss Honey, is the only adult character willing to go to bat for Matilda. McGrory plays Miss Honey with kindness and sensitivity, with a voice that cuts through all the clutter and lays bare the enormity of the problems caused by the evil Wormwoods and the school principal, Agatha Trunchbull, played by Gunn.

Gunn has a blast with Trunchbull’s cruelties and insecurities. (She is also quite funny.) Her voice ranges and changes every time she is on stage. She alternates between the sickeningly sweet poser, the screaming administrator and the sadistic phys-ed coach.

School kids featuring Kylie Kim (Bruce) in the Dolphin Show’s production of Matilda the Musical. Credit: Justin Barbin

Gunn twists and turns, yells and screams and generally creates fear in every child in the school, and possibly in the audience. She is so over the top that she is fun to watch. Gunn is very good at being very bad.

The show contains a lot of circus elements and the two primary acrobats, Matthew Millin (as Escapologist) and Julianne Zane (Acrobat) are terrific. The show is enhanced by their acrobatic skills and daring.

The sets are minimalist and efficient, but effective. The shadow play toward the back of the stage is hilarious and clever. They add lighthearted elements to what can be a thematically heavy show at times.

The orchestra does a fine job supporting the musical numbers and dancing on stage. The entire cast pitches in throughout the show setting up scenes, moving the set pieces, dealing with the acrobatic silks and positioning the protective mats. 

Kudos to all of the skilled teams behind the scenes. The Dolphin Show is a herculean effort every year and presenting the 80th show in person after a pandemic is a big deal. Matilda is fun, funny, imaginative and ultimately rewarding, both in the arc of the story and for the audience.

The show’s run time is approximately two hours and 40 minutes, which includes a-15 minute intermission. Tickets for the remaining four shows (Jan. 21, 22, 27, 28) are available online.

All performances are held at Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson St., an accessible building that includes an elevator. And ladies, take note: in what may be a first, but hopefully might start a trend, the ladies restroom downstairs is large with lots of stalls. 

Wendi Kromash

Wendi Kromash is curious about everything and will write about anything. She tends to focus on one-on-one interviews with community leaders, recaps and reviews of cultural events, feature stories about...

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  1. (From a proud grandfather) Lauren continues to amaze us as she matures in “life” and “shobiz”. She is a credit to herself and her immediate family. Go Lauren!