Home Theater Broadway: “Matilda” Will Make Tony Award Race for Best Musical Tightest Ever

“Matilda” opens tonight on Broadway, adding itself to “Kinky Boots,” the soon to close “Hands on A Hardbody,” and “Cinderella” (a new old show). That’s four musicals, all original (since “Cinderella” was made for TV originally), plus “Motown: The Musical,” which some original material to augment the jukebox of classic hits. “Hardbody” may be closing, but that doesn’t diminish its many achievements. That’s the best field of shows in a long time, frankly.

I saw “Matilda” last night and I can tell you–it’s not what you expect. Around 16 children between the ages of 9 and 14 are its stars. There are adults, principally Bertie Carvel, a man who plays a woman, and who is really spectacular. The other adults are Gabriel Ebert, Lauren Ward, and Lesli Margherita. They will all be “names” on Friday morning.

So will the girls who play Matilda. Last night, Bailey Ryon played the first act and part of the second until she fell and hurt herself. The capable Milly Shapiro stepped in, picked up and finished the show. Both girls took bows. They, and all the children in the show, are so exceptional it’s hard to believe they’re not small adults. They aren’t.

“Matilda” comes from the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Dodgers. Matthew Warchus directs, and the set– which is like a giant world of Scrabble pieces for children– is from Rob Howell. The entire physical production, including school desks that rise out of the stage, is jaw dropping.  There’s one scene in which Karen Aldridge, playing Matilda’s librarian friend, sits on a cube as a fanciful scene unfolds in front of her. I thought, that woman must be thinking this is sort of amazing, as a complete fantasy appears before Matilda.

The show is dark, edgy, and not your basic family fare. It’s Roald Dahl without any sugar coating. Everything is played as if the kids are adults. No one is talked down to. Some kids in the audience loved it. Others looked like they needed a drink. In the second act, there’s a number that looks like 9 year olds are doing “American Idiot” crossed with “Spring Awakening.” But 90 plus year old legend Marge Champion, who I spoke to during the intermission, was aglow with praise. The choreography is mind bending. And these kids are doing it.

Did I mention the songs? What a year for songs– from Cyndi Lauper to Amanda Green to Berry Gordy and the Motown writers to Rodgers and Hammerstein. And Australian Tim Minchin has written some extraordinarily beautiful songs that are real songs. They’ll stick in your head. “Matilda” isn’t perfect. It’s a little too long, and gets some convoluted in the second act. But what a great job these people have done.

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3 replies to this post
  1. ^It’s been a good season for sure, but “Matilda” is the clear front runner at this point. I’m not trying to diminish any of the other productions currently in contention, but last year (Newsies vs. Once), 2010 (Memphis vs. Fela vs. American Idiot), 2009 (Billy Elliot vs. Next to Normal), 2008 (In the Heights vs. Passing Strange), 2005 (Spamalot vs. Piazza vs. Spelling Bee vs. Dirty Rotten Scoundrel) and the ultimate dark horse story, 2004 (Avenue Q vs. Wicked) were all FAR tighter races.
    The final nominations for Best Musical will most likely go to “Matilda”, “Kinky Boots”, very possibly “Motown” (unless critics completely pan it come Sunday), and either “Bring It On” or “A Christmas Story” (with the latter having the most potential).
    Like I said, a good year, but hardly a nail-biter.

  2. We have seen a lot of Broadway productions, including Lion King, Wicked, Les Mis etc. Recently, last week, my mother and I, took my two girls (9 & 11) to see Matilda in NYC. Epic! All of us laughed the whole way through. It satisified three generations of theater fanatics. Bertie is the best! The actress playing Maltida is amazing. Well, actually, all the actors were amazing. Each of my girls bought the sound track. We’d go see it again tomorrow. Bravo!

  3. CINDERELLA is not an “all-new” show and the Tony Administration committee has already adjudicated it to be a revival. While Doug Beane’s book is new, and Tony eligible, the score by Rodgers & Hammerstein is not, as the Tony rules specify that the score nominees must be written for the theatre, and as you have acknowledged, it was written for television some 50 years ago.

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