According to a prominent source in “Matilda the Musical,” reading can give you head lice of the soul — and sorry to say that if you’ve gotten this far in the review, you might be feeling a little existential itch already.
Given that the supposed expert in question is dressed to resemble a seasick parakeet, though, his opinion might be safely dismissed.
Not so for “Matilda” — the musical, or the tiny dynamo of a heroine it’s named for.
Moonlight Stage Productions’ regional premiere of the Broadway musical about a book-loving girl and the (mostly) bonkers grown-ups around her is a bracing tonic for any kind of spirit-sapping idiocy that might be afflicting your own life.
Leave it to Roald Dahl — the late British master of bristly kid-lit who wrote the 1988 book that inspired the show — to come up with a story where intelligence and kindness (not to be confused with spotless virtue) manage to triumph over utter twit-itude.
And leave it to Moonlight to put up a production that brings boisterous life to this big-cast, bigger-spirited musical comedy.
The show has a gem at its center with young Moonlight newcomer Charity Rose as a self-possessed, eminently likable Matilda, the British youngster whose parents are mad, bad and horribly clad. (Check her dad’s nauseating plaid.)
Charity has an especially stirring turn on “Quiet,” Matilda’s second-act anthem of empowerment and acceptance of her own quirky self, in which she sings: “Noise becomes anger and the anger is light.”
Matilda has a few things to be peeved about. Her shifty salesman of a dad, Mr. Wormwood (Kevin Hafso-Koppman) — he of the head-lice philosophizing — wanted to exchange her for a boy when she was born (and still calls her “Boy”), while her beyond-dismissive mom (Kristina Miller-Weston) is all about “looks, not books,” and proclaims the very idea of storytelling to be “disgusting.”
It’s enough to make any self-respecting 5-year-old want to lose herself in her Dostoevsky (one of Matilda’s favorites); but she finds a champion in the young teacher Miss Honey (Ashley Fox Linton), a caring but timid soul who recognizes Matilda’s genius and resolves to stand up for her.
And standing up for someone is not so easy when it means going against the towering Miss Trunchbull — the frightfest of a headmaster played to grim, imposing comic perfection by Randall Hickman.
As horrid as Trunchbull is, Mr. Wormwood gives her a run for her (ill-gotten) money, and Hafso-Koppman makes the character a sleazy delight. Miller-Weston also brings a kind of exquisitely offhand viciousness to the vacuous Mrs. Wormwood, and has a hands-down hilarious scene with her alarmingly limber dance teacher Rudolpho (a memorable Ala Tiatia).
The show, though, needs a little sweetness, and the velvety-voiced Linton’s eventually heroic Miss Honey is all of that; she and the appealing Shirley Johnston as the story-loving local librarian help give the grown-ups a good name.
(Isabella Pruter as Matilda’s funny pal Lavender and Alexander Ikizyan as the put-upon schoolboy Bruce are also cast standouts, although the whole young-actor ensemble is a big boost to the show.)
Director Jamie Torcellini’s production unfolds with plenty of pop on Stephen Gifford’s fairy-tale-gone-wrong set. And the show moves beautifully thanks to Colleen Kollar Smith’s bursting-with-personality choreography on such spiky numbers by composer Tim Minchin as “School Song,” The Smell of Rebellion” and the pricelessly titled “Revolting Children.”
Music director and conductor Elan McMahan’s band brings lots of texture to such tunes as “I’m Here.” And while lyrics on some of the faster-moving numbers can be hard to decipher, Jim Zadai’s sound serves the music well, while Shon LeBlanc’s playful costumes and Jennifer Edwards’ dynamic lighting also flatter its looks.
And if nothing else, “Matilda” gives credit to the idea that the power of the word is worth risking the bite of the lice.
‘Matilda the Musical’
When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays. Through Aug. 3.
Where: Moonlight Stage Productions at the Moonlight Amphitheatre, 1250 Vale Terrace Drive (in Brengle Terrace Park), Vista.
Tickets: $17-$57 (discounts available)
Phone: (760) 724-2110