For the last two years, while on our annual pilgrimage to London, my kids and I have stood in line trying to score tickets to Matilda, to no avail. After seeing the film and reading the book by Roald Dahl a zillion times, they were determined to see the show. It was always consolation that we knew the show would soon be coming to NYC but it was disappointing for them nonetheless.
My kids, who are real Broadway kids, have become somewhat jaded about going to the theatre. They see most shows but when I told them it was time to see Matilda, they started to dance around the house.
We headed to see it two nights ago. It was a shorter pilgrimage than to London – it was right here in good old NYC at the Shubert Theatre.
Based on the 1988 children’s novel by Roald Dahl, Matilda on stage reflects the spirit of his other famous stories, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “James and the Giant Peach”. The show embodies his subtle dark side about good versus evil, but in the end, it’s goodness that wins.
I have one word for this show: BRILLIANT. I can honestly say that I haven’t been to a Broadway production like this since Wicked. I am even reticent to compare it, it’s just that good. The lyrics, the staging, choreography, costumers, set, actors, dancing, voices. Everything comes together to tell the magical story of Matilda, the insanely smart 5-year-old who loves to read and learn but has too many people in her way, including her own family. Her parents who can’t be described as anything but gross and her school’s cruel headmaster, Trunchbull, is suspicious of Matilda from the minute he meets her and vows: “I shall crush you! I shall pound you!” He treats the students in his school very cruelly and one wonders how anyone of his kind gets elected for such a position in a school.
Mitilda is smart enough to know that her home life is not healthy, with parents (played hilariously by Lesli Margherita and Gabriel Ebert, who won the Tony which was well-deserved) who treat Matilda’s love of reading as rubbish. Her father takes her library books and rips them up, so she spends her afternoons at the library with Miss Phelps, played splendidly by Karen Aldridge (who I hope is completely like her character in real life). The play revolves around a story that Matilda is telling her. It’s a figment of her imagination but has a lot of resemblances to a life she wishes she had. As she sings “When I Grow Up”, we feel her heart aching to be swept away into another world where she can live like any regular child. I doubt that kids who are experiencing the same kind of pain at home will be able to afford tickets to Matilda, but if they do, they will be able to relate to the main character’s struggle.
The scenes in the classroom are both beautiful and heart-breaking at the same time. Matilda has a kind teacher, Miss Honey, played by Taylor Trensch, trying to instill a love of reading and education in each child, while championing each child against an unfair system that is has a hard time standing up against. The mean, pigtail-hating Miss Trunchbull is played by West End star Bertie Carvel, who was recently nominated for a Tony Award. All the kids in the play are basically making their Broadway review and are knock-outs. Watch them sing “Revolting Children” here after one of Matilda’s beautiful songs. It will make your heart sing as they sing “WE ARE REVOLTING CHILDREN LIVING IN REVOLTING TIMES.”
They seem to be mocking the state of the union, hoping for change.
The role of Matilda is played by four actresses who rotate the role nightly. The night we saw the show featured 9-year-old Sophia Gennusa. She was very, very impressive and it is still quite mind-boggling to me how she can remember so many lines and keep up her energy for such a long time. She happens to be a fellow Westchester resident which makes me very proud! She certainly doesn’t look like a five year-old, and neither do her fellow cast members, but the play is about stretching your imagination which I did.
Directed by Matthew Warchus, with the book by Dennis Kelly and wonderful songs by Tim Minchin, “Matilda” is as much as it is for adults as kids. I highly recommend it. For what shows cost today, this is one of the only ones that is worth very single penny. My kids were not disappointed and neither was I. This is not a show that will be forgotten.
Disclosure: I was not given these tickets. They were paid for out of my own pocket and all opinions are my own.