Watching Matilda

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By Harvey I. Barkin

SAN JOSE – She was doing figure eights around the adults on a scooter. But a few minutes ago, Gabby Gutierrez wowed audiences with her performance as the night’s principal in Matilda the Musical at the San Jose Center for Performing Arts last March 11. The show ran from March 7 to March 12.

In plaid and denims, hair still mussed from the show’s last scene, the almost 4’5”, 66 pound, 11-year old could pass for just another typical playful pre-teen. She almost made it out of the box office incognito. But an admirer recognized her and asked for an autograph. You couldn’t miss that voice once you hear it and recognize the source.

Nowadays, Lea Salonga wannabes are a dime a dozen. But Gabby stood out on her own and bantered with veteran British-accented Broadway players. To enunciate and sing while everyone around you does both in public school English can be daunting, let alone dance to original Broadway lyrics and not skip a beat.

But Gabby is no neophyte. This is her second national tour as Matilda. She made her first in 2015. A few of her memorable roles include: Ngana in South Pacific (2013), Annie in How the Grinch stole Christmas at the Madison Square Garden (2014) and Sofia in School of Rock the Musical on Broadway (2016). She’s just one of three actors who rotate for the principal for Matilda. Just last week she co-starred in TBS TV’s The Detour.

There was a 1996 Matilda movie, based on Roald Dahl’s novel (older TV viewers remember some of his stories from TV’s Tales of the Unexpected). The movie was more of a children’s fantasy-comedy, directed by Danny DeVito. It was about a genius girl living with parents who did not think much about education.

In the musical, adapted by Dennis Kelly (a much-awarded British TV, film and stage writer) with lyrics and music by Tim Minchin (an Australian comedian, actor, writer, musician and director), Matilda’s telekinetic power does not come until later. The original was first staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-upon-Avon between 2010 to 2011. It premiered on Broadway in 2013.

This month, Minchin parodied Trump in Donald the Musical on TV’s The Late late show with James Corden. Dressed as a school boy Trump, Minchin sang a parody of When I grow up from Matilda with others portraying Sean Spicer, Steve Bannon, and Kellyanne Conway.

Matilda the Musical won seven Olivier Awards in 2012, including Best New Musical. Matilda still holds the record for winning the most Olivier Awards by a musical. In the US, it won five Tony Awards in 2013, including Best Book of a Musical.

But lest you think all Gabby eats is beef stew and suet dumplings, she’s still Filipino at heart, coming home to sinigang and adobo. She was born in New York City and five months later moved to New Jersey. She has a 17-year-old sister, Laurianne and a nurse dad, Dennis. Like some child progeny, her mom, Sisley, is with her when she tours with the company. She has been performing since she was seven and has her own tutor on the road.

Aside from Lea Salonga, Gabby likes actor and singer Kristin Chenoweth in Wicked. In her free time, she likes skiing, playing the piano, guitar and ukulele. When she’s finally done with performing, she wants to pursue a degree in Law at Fordham.

Her friend of a few weeks on this tour and cast mate Gabrielle Beredo said of Gabby, “She’s fun and brings a lot of positive energy with her. When it’s all quiet in the room, she makes noise.”

Apparently, not loud enough. She has been to the Bay Area but did not catch the attention of the Filipino press the first time a few years back. Sadly, when you’ve been feed a steady diet of Katy Perry and Taylor Swift, you don’t register the sweetness of a pure voice without the eye candy.

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