If you’ve not yet seen Broadway’s newest blockbuster, Matilda, well…”somewhere along the way my dear, you’ve made an awful error”
Based on Roald Dahl’s 1988 book, Matilda the Musical encompasses the endearing and heart warming story of a small girl with a brilliant mind. The musical, written by Dennis Kelly and Tim Munchin originated on the West End in London, where it was very well received by audiences and critics alike. On April 11, 2013, only 2 short years from its 2011 West End opening night, Matilda opened on Broadway, British Accents and all. In 2013, Matilda took home several Tony awards including best book, best sound and lighting design, best featured actor, and honorary nominations for the four original Matildas.
The storyline to Matilda is much closer to the book than the 1996 movie adaptation. The show opens with “miracle”, a song in which the ensemble children boast that they are the best soldier, ballerina, and angel, but only in their parents’ eyes. Cut to Mrs. Wormwood whining over having to miss her ballroom dancing competition to give birth to her second child, Matilda. Mr. Wormwood disregards Matilda because she is not the second son he wanted. While Matilda chooses to occupy herself with books, her parents and brother are able to sit mindlessly in front of the television for hours. As indicated in the song “Naughty”, Matilda plans on utilizing her innocent and childish nature to play silly pranks on her parents.
At school, things are not much better. The Headmistress, Agatha Trunchbull, is an olympic gold medalist that treats each student with a lack of kindness and respect. This leads to a school full of bullying and children who are afraid to be unique. Miss Honey, Matilda’s teacher, proves to be very different from most adults Matilda has come to know. She is endearing, intelligent, and has a profound love for teaching students of all types. Riddled with childhood fears from her dark past, Miss Honey finds herself battling her own fears all while helping brilliant Matilda harness her incredible energy. One of the most memorable and relatable songs in the show, “When I Grow Up”, begins with the children swinging on the playground discussing all the fabulous things they will be able to do when they grow up. They dream of a fearless adult world where they will know all the answers and sweets can be eaten at any time. Over on the side is miss Honey, all grown up, but still facing the evil creatures from her past.
Matilda finds refuge from her nutty household at the library, where she tells the librarian stories that allude to Miss Honey’s childhood. Through her stories, the audience learns about the tragic death of Miss Honey’s acrobatic mother and the sudden absence of her father. Miss Honey was forced to live with her Aunt, Agatha Trunchbull, where she grew up with fear and uncertainty. In the end, Matilda uses her wit and magical powers to drive the Trunchbull away from the school and Miss Honey. Miss Honey adopts Matilda and takes her away from her debilitating parents. They successfully free from each other from the root of their fears. The final song “revolting children” is sung by the ensemble of children. They celebrate Miss Honey as the new principle of Trunchbull Academy. It’s the most energetic number in the show and concludes with blast of confetti over the audience.
Visually appealing and architecturally stunning, the set design for Matilda replicates letter tiles from the game, Scrabble. The proscenium, completely covered in letter tiles of all sizes, is enlightened by hues of pinks and blues. Throughout the show, the use of bold, primary colors keeps the whimsical view of life through a child’s eyes alive. Mechanically, the show takes advantage of several unique technicalities that enhance the magical elements within the story. From floating chalk to launching a girl into space from her pigtails, the creative team seamlessly tackled a variety of hollywood scenes without breaking the fine line between the theatrical world occurring on stage and reality.
The casting for the show is incredibly spot on, and each child has the stage presence and performance ability as some cast members three times their age. The young girl who played Matilda completely stole the show with her song “Quiet”. She had the audience in the palm of her hand, and her slow, belted notes, were pitch perfect.
Why is Matilda so successful?
Musicals like Matilda walk a fine line between being superficial enough for kids, but complex enough for adults to enjoy. On the surface, Matilda is a fun story where a child uses her magical powers to triumph an evil principle. The special effects and bubbly songs draw kids in to make the musical a classic tale of good vs. evil. In essence, Matilda is a little superhero that children can relate to. The endless depth to the story is what makes adults realize Matilda is a girl who represents millions of children that face less than stellar at home situations. Their parents aren’t bringing them to Broadway shows and taking them to the stage door to meet the cast after. Miss Honey, like Matilda, is a product of an abusive home situation. The find solace in each other, because they both grew up in homes where their guardians were not super heroes. Mom and dad couldn’t solve childhood problems, in fact, they only made such problems worse. In some cases, children must learn to be their own superheroes. Another empowering theme worth addressing is how Matilda, at an incredibly young age, and an advocate for feminism. Not particularly concerned with her appearance, this little genius outsmarts even the most proud boys in her class. Despite her mother’s constant reminder that “looks not books” make a girl attractive, Matilda finds her own sense of style, and messes with her parents clothing and hair dye to prove without the look, her parents don’t have much going for them. In our society, having a child has come to be seen as a burden. As if it is the child’s fault the parent can’t go on vacation, enjoy several nights out, or need attention because they don’t understand their homework assignment. Having a child is a sacrifice. Children of all shapes, sizes, and abilities are miracles and reserve the respect, time, and patience, that can only come from a parent or guardian’s heart.
A good musical, like a good book, is one that makes you think long after you’ve had the pleasure of viewing it. Matilda is innovative, wickedly funny, and will have you singing long after curtain call. I highly suggest becoming a “revolting child” for the evening and checking out “Matilda the Musical” on Broadway