by Louise, Director of Operations
In a world where every parent seems to think their perfectly average child is gifted, talented, and above reproach, what happens when an unquestionably brilliant daughter is born to ignorant, dismissive parents who refuse to recognize or appreciate her special abilities? This is just the situation in which the world’s greatest five-year-old protagonist, Matilda, finds herself, and as a result she starts kindergarten not only a highly developed brain but also a highly developed sense of injustice. Unfortunately, once at kindergarten the situation only worsens when Matilda is faced with true evil – a horrible bullying headmistress called The Trunchbull.
Such is the story of one of the great Roald Dahl’s best-loved works and Broadway’s newest sweetheart. Matilda was one of my absolute favorite books as a child and remains a favorite to this day. I thought the 1996 film was a travesty that caught none of the beauty and humor of the original story, so I was apprehensive to see the musical. While I still think the book is the best way to experience the story of Matilda (please read it if you never have), I’m happy to say the show, with a book by Dennis Kelly and music & lyrics by Tim Minchin, is excellent.
First of all, the set is one of the most gorgeous sets I’ve ever seen. The proscenium and backdrop are covered with what look like Scrabble (or for you young folks, “Words with Friends”) tiles of various sizes. Many of the letters are random, but if you take a look you can see some words relevant to the story spelled out, like “child” and “phenomenon.” In the library set, the tiles spell out “quiet,” “shush,” and “silence.” The overall effect is truly stunning. Every set piece that comes out on stage is perfectly in harmony with this background – it’s a bit cartoonish, a touch Tim Burton-ish, with perhaps a dash of theme park.
The performances are strong all around. Four young actresses split the role of Matilda – at the performance I attended it was 9-year-old Sophia Gennusa and she was nothing short of astonishing. 10 minute monologues, several solo numbers, huge emotional moments, and she nailed it all. Much of the ensemble is also made up of young children and they all deliver fantastic performances. Bertie Carvel as The Trunchbull is hilarious and disturbing and we may well be looking at a Best Actor Tony for a man playing a female role.
There are some terrific musical numbers in the show with gorgeous choreography. Matilda’s first number “Naughty” is a stand out and the perfect introduction to this wonderful character. “School Song,” in which the new kindergarteners are introduced to Crunchem Hall, is visually stunning and totally captivating. “When I Grow Up,” sung by the children of Crunchem Hall and Miss Honey, is a beautiful melodious number that takes place on a swing set, where the kids execute an impressive amount of tricky choreography that made me a tad nervous.
For me, the most special moments in the show were when I could see real nods to the book. The costume for Mr. Wormwood (Matilda’s father) is almost an exact replica of Quentin Blake’s original illustration. There are snatches of dialogue here and there that I recognized as being directly from the book. And there is a moment where Matilda uses an umbrella to get her dad’s hat off a hat rack that is a perfect tribute to one of the book’s illustrations. If you’re as much of a Roald Dahl fan as I am, these little touches will make your heart soar.
Finally, I just can’t resist saying that there are two very youthful heroines on Broadway right now and you may not be sure which one you want setting an example for your kids when you come to NYC this spring. Both are faced with injustices they must overcome. While Matilda makes some mischief in her methods, she does take it upon herself to improve her situation. No billionaire comes to rescue her and she relies on her own wits to improve her circumstance. There is nothing wrong with unwaivering optimism, I suppose, but I prefer Matilda’s attitude in her opening song, when she says:
“Just because you find that life’s not fair, it
Doesn’t mean that you just have to grin and bear it.
If you always take it on the chin and wear it,
You might as well be saying you think that it’s OK.
And that’s not right.
And if it’s not right, you have to put it right.
But nobody else is gonna put it right for me.
Nobody but me is gonna change my story.
Sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty.”
Now there’s a life lesson you can take to the bank!
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org for travel packages including tickets to Matilda this spring!