The book Matilda came out when I was a preteen. I loved it because except for the telekinesis, that was life. Books were my escape from an unhappy home. Hearing ‘put the book down’ was standard in my house. By the age of twelve, my parents were well on their way to divorce. Without knowing it, my very own Trunchbull was waiting for me in the hell called high school. A story like Matilda gave me just enough validation to withstand the worst years. I was a very young twelve, hiding in the books of my younger childhood, hoping to go back in time. Roald Dahl understood and made it possible, and so very funny along the way.
Went to see the show years later only hoping the integrity would not be lost. As a new fan of Tim Minchin’s other work, I needn’t have worried. This man is consistently underestimated.
We went to Broadway’s Matilda knowing the soundtrack and having seen enough clips to have an idea of what it might look like. When we got there, we realized we were sitting in the second row on the left side of the house. My husband was very happy, because he is a taller big man who often doesn’t have any leg room in theater seats like this. He found that given the seating layout he was able to stretch his legs all the way out in front of him, so he got excited pretty quickly. He’s also a high school English teacher, so this was completely a story for him as well.
Observing the set up close it’s startling how three-dimensional it is, and sitting that close to the stage I was able to reach out and touch it, realizing that the entire stage floor is a giant jigsaw puzzle actually cut into it- not just painted that way. As a former and current theater person who often works with companies with no budget whatsoever, it took time to realize “oh wait, this is what you can do when you have money in the show!” Add to that my two favorite games growing up were Scrabble and Boggle.. and just the fun of the word searches waiting for everything to start just added to the excitement. Seeing the set morph and rise out of the floor like that just made our faces drop.
The show itself blew us away. They have all new Matildas after the originals left the show, banished for the horrific crime of growing up. We saw Paige Brady that night and she was absolutely riveting. Where do they find these kids?! The old adage never work with children or animals was utterly ignored, and to wondrous effect. Many of the actors and kids in the ensemble were actually still from the original Broadway run, as were Lesli Magherita and Gabriel Ebert (Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood). We didn’t expect any of the original Broadway cast would still be there, especially Gabriel who, now that he’s won a Tony, can probably do whatever he wants to, and they were just dazzling. Gabriel is just all gangliness and limbs and was hysterical. (An interview with him online showed him talking about doing all these very serious roles in school and how hard they worked to get him to tone down physically, and how the first role on Broadway he gets they need to tell him to be a clown.)
Our show had Chris Hoch as Miss Trunchbull- and he was full-on terrifying. Bullying from a teacher is a part of my experience in life as well, making this dynamic extremely upsetting, but only because the acting was so good. The main word that comes to mind when thinking about this show and its ensemble is.. kinetic. Never expected there to be so much *energy* from the kids and such a dramatic buildup of the story so that by the time ‘Revolting Children’ comes on, the audience is right there celebrating with the kids. The buildup of tension was so big that it made sense that the release of it in that song had to also be that big. The way they played with levels and people climbing up boxes was unlike anything ever seen before.
Seeing it brought to life in this way just hit every single emotion we had, and when a grown 6’4″ man sits and cries.. the creative team deserved every award they got, and much more besides.
Surprisingly satirical, the greatest fun was had realizing that what Mr. Minchin has done is slipped in his own statements about the ways the adults in society are often focused on the wrong things. This is exemplified in the characters of Matilda’s parents. Matilda’s mother, a candidate for the “Real Housewives of England” if ever there was one, is more focused on “looks not books” and sings in her song Loud “the less you have to sell the harder you sell it/The less you have to say the louder you yell it”. Her husband isn’t much better, devaluing books and facts by singing “All I know I learned from telly”; both of which frankly should be played on repeat in the Houses of Congress until they get the message. I know. I won’t hold my breath either, but boy, I could see the “Revolting Children” song being sung in a protest march in the streets one day.
I encourage anyone who works with children or who was once a child to see this show. Anyone who has had a teacher, loved a teacher, hated a teacher, loved books, felt misunderstood for being different should go see this show. The American touring company of this show begins next year in Los Angeles at the Ahmanson Theater.
Review By Renee Scattolini