Theater Review - Matilda (NY)

From “Newsies,” to “Annie,” to the newest “Matilda,” kids rule Broadway! Magical, extraordinary! From the moment you step into the Shubert Theatre, you are blown away by Rob Howell's exciting, unique set design, a mass of books, squares and letters, some colorfully lit like hard candies by Hugh Vanstone, which fill the stage. That is only the beginning of a dazzling theatrical experience over-stuffed with wondrous things. Desks rise from the floor when needed; writing appears miraculously on a blackboard.  If that were not enough, Howell's Costumes are masterpieces of invention. 


The English musical, “Matilda,” presented by The Royal Shakespeare Company and Dodger Productions, directed with a good pace by Matthew Warchus and choreographed astonishingly by Peter Darling is the most original work of this new season on Broadway. Based on the book by Roald Dahl, this ironic story is one of a little girl whose parents hate her and her love for books and reading. (Beauty and the Beast?) Yes, it is nasty and dark, and not for toddlers, but it is also terribly funny, wonderfully acted and staged. 


Dennis Kelly's Book is strong, never wavering from the true line.  Although I have only heard it once, Tim Minchin's score (Music and Lyrics) is pleasurable. I particularly enjoyed “My House,” the song

sung by Lauren Ward as Miss Honey, the teacher who saves Matilda. Played here brilliantly by 9 year old Bailey Ryon, in the performance I saw---three others rotate in the part- Matilda is a five year old genius; an unwanted child, her birth interferes with her mother's participation in a ballroom dancing competition.  Mrs. Wormwood (Lesli Margherita) resembles the mean stepmother in Cinderella, butwears the most fab blue sequin shoes.  Her dancing partner, Rudolpho, the agile Phillip Spaeth, shimmies like a snake.   Matilda's dad, tall, skinny Gabriel Ebert, with a huge head of hair and a pea green plaid suit, is despicable, calling Matilda, “boy” and telling her to stop reading and learn everything on the “telly!”  Matilda has a moral code that her dad does not have, a nice touch.


Matilda fights back with all her might, but is sent to a private school and there meets many schoolmates, who are being abused by the dastardly principal Miss Trunchbull, played amusingly by Bertie Carvel. This actor who won the Olivier award for this performance, is only 6' tall, but looks like a giant next to the children. There are a number of sub plots, employing the Russian Mafia and psychic behavior. It all comes to a happy ending after 2 hours and 40 minutes.


As they did in “Billy Elliot,” the Olivier award was given to all four little girls who play Matilda. That may happen here, as well.  It is impossible to mention all the children- Jack Broderick as Bruce and Frenie Acoba as Lavendar were superb.


“Matilda” is a delightful adventure for adults and children over the age of 9 at the Shubert Theatre.   

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