Matilda is one of Roald Dahl’s best books. It is a dark tale about a gifted girl with hideous parents. To say it presents a tonal challenge is an understatement. But the movie, directed by Danny Devito, succeeds. When I heard that Matilda the musical had opened to much acclaim in London, I had high hopes. I bought tickets last Fall, and waited. And in fact, Matilda opened to rave reviews on Broadway. It was nominated for lots of Tonys. Were we witnessing the birth of a classic?
In a word, no. Although Matilda is worth seeing. The staging is excellent. There is a tremendous sense of kinetics, the students are always moving, on swings, trampolines, scooters and desks. The set is marvelously inventive, a great backdrop for a show about learning. It looks like a giant exploding Scrabble board. The performances are strong. Four girls rotate playing Matilda. We saw Sophia Gennusa, who was excellent – small, strong, and fierce. Bertie Carvel reprises the role of Miss Trunchbull, which he originated in London. The choreography is good, the costumes are wonderful, and have I mentioned the staging? You have to see it to believe it.
The problem? The songs. The lyrics are difficult to hear. I think this is a sound problem more than an enunciation problem. More importantly, the songs aren’t memorable or tuneful. Since the whole point of a musical (to me at least) is … THE MUSIC, I’m afraid Matilda doesn’t quite succeed. Usually I leave a musical humming a song or two. This was not the case with Matilda. So, although Matilda is a creative, well staged, well acted musical, it fails to deliver on, well, the music.
Rating: *** (out of ****)