Last Spring while I was on line at the box office for “Pippin” tickets, two women behind me were animatedly discussing “Matilda,” which was also a show high on my Broadway checklist. They had already seen it twice – once in England – couldn’t stop raving about it, and planned on attending a third time…. it was still in previews here in NYC at quite a costly ticket price. Needless to say, it opened to rave reviews and seemed the darling of the critics and theater goers. Yet it did not win the Tony as confidently predicted … perhaps a bit of a British backlash?
All good things come to those who wait. At long last, it appeared at the “Tkts/Tkts” booth (actually it has been up there for a while this fall season) and I scored a decent seat at an affordable price. (HINT HINT)
Agreed ladies, should you be reading… you can indeed catch this show three times, and there will still be more left to experience. Matilda is cleverer then clever. The moment you enter the Shubert, you view an open stage surrounded with those familiar baby like wooden blocks denoting in color the letters of the alphabet accented by those instantly recognizable scrabble tiles. Letters make words, words make sentences, sentences make paragraphs, paragraphs make stories, and stories are the basis of books which also outline the stage. Ultimately, what you see is what you get – books as a means of escape to a world outside your own. Especially a world as dark as little Matilda’s. Such a deliberate irony here as usually the book is the weakest part of a musical, but in this case, this is the show’s strongest element. And that alphabet staring at the audience reminds us that the lyrics will serve us equally as well as the book.
Dahl’s naughty, off center, eccentrically humorous vision is deliciously served in this musical version of his novel. Be prepared, there is nothing subtle in “Matilda.” It’s black and white; a world of extremes – what you see is what you get. Be careful not to blink, so much going on, such a frenzy of show stopping numbers, you gotta keep up with your eyes as well as your ears. These superlative performers, especially the children, will both challenge and exhaust you! With character names like “Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood,” “Miss Honey,” and “Miss Trunchbull” you know precisely what to expect from them. However, the title name “Matilda Wormwood” (played at my performance by a spirited Milly Shapiro) seems incongruent …. therein lies the gray matter and subsequent plot line.
Matilda is a young genius – the superior, but unwanted child of negligent, intensely dim witted parents, played to a riotous malicious hilt by Lesli Margherita and Gabriel Ebert. This pair makes stupid an art form. They conveniently stick her away in the epitome of a cold, nasty English grammar school run by the creepy Miss Trunchbull, played by a male, Chris Hock, with malevolent delight. UGGG! You would rather digest dirt then have to attend this sorry excuse of a school. So life is not good for witty Matilda… but can you alter your destiny? Matilda has nature on her side but nurture is much to be desired. Enter “Miss Honey.” Need I say more? …. “Revolution,” “Revolt,” and “Rebellion”…..why do these words ring in the ears of the audience? I told you subtle is not Dahl’s strong suite in this Dahl of a show!
Really a terrific afternoon at the theater, such an entertaining show. But perhaps it’s a bit too dark? Perhaps a tad too clever? The cockney accents were a slight problem for me, especially with the song lyrics. The score is not over flowing with melody, with a few exceptions (“When I Grow Up” especially touched me) leading to the query “how musical is today’s musical?”…. but I quibble. This is today’s score and representative of today’s Broadway…original, inventive and feisty! This cast of kids, including the older set, are exceptionally gifted and stage confident – both as a collective chorus and in their quirky choreography – while the adult members strongly shine in their respective roles.
Ultimately you are gobsmacked by this amazing show…. who knew nasty could be so appealing?!
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WHAT: Matilda WHERE: The Shubert Theater 225 West 44th Street New York, New York
By: Joanne Theodorou