Matilda the Musical debuted on Broadway in the Shubert Theater in April 2013 and has been a smash hit since its opening night. Based on the best selling children’s novel by Roald Dahl, this new adaptation of a long loved story brought nostalgia and fun childhood memories back to so many viewers in the audience. The musical tells the story of Matilda, a genius, book-loving, five year old girl born into a corrupt, TV-obsessed family that neither wants nor appreciates her one-of-a-kind mind. Matilda finds herself in a school with a child-hating headmistress, Miss Trunchbull, who bullies everyone including Matilda’s caring and supportive teacher, Miss Honey. As the story progresses, Matilda discovers that, “even if you’re little you can do a lot” and that to make positive change “sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty.”
There is a lot to look for in a musical. It can be judged by its songs, score, plot, character development, and so many other aspects that an in-depth review would be endless. Since the story was familiar to me, and the characters were ones that I know and love, I focused on other aspects of the performance. What first caught my attention was the scenery and props. There was something very minimalistic about the staging. A couch here and a TV set there indicated Matilda’s home, while tall bookshelves filled with white, titleless books showed the audience that they had entered Matilda’s safe haven, the library. This style—showing the audience where they are supposed to be without spelling it out for them—allows the viewers to complete the picture for themselves, to fill in the walls and the floors and the titles of the books, giving each patron a unique experience.
The casting of the show was just as creative as the set. While Matilda is played by a girl of roughly nine years of age, and the majority of the children are played by kids, mixed into the chorus are adults who play older children at the school. Dressed in shorts and jumpers like the rest of the schoolchildren, these members of the ensemble add a quirkiness to the dance numbers that was already semi-present in the choreography. The dance moves were not fluid and graceful like many Broadway dance scenes. They were jerky and deliberate, highlighting the childishness of the cast.
That is exactly what gave the show most of its charm. Matilda gave the audience a window into the minds of children and transported adults in the theatre back to their schoolboy and girl days. In the second act, the song “When I Grow Up” completed the transportation. It’s a beautiful slow number sung by the schoolchildren, who imagine what their lives will be like as adults. It is filled with lyrics describing how they “will eat sweets every day on the way to work” and “go to bed late every night” depicting the untainted, naive childhood dreams of a carefree adulthood.
Matilda is a fun, energetic, and entertaining show that, manages to both focus on children and act as an amazing throwback for those that are a bit older. The story never gets old, and the new twists added to the Broadway show make revisiting this childhood favorite even more worthwhile. Matilda will hold its final performance on January 1st, 2017.