What… this? This is the key to my superlative cabinet, which is now being opened because Olive and I have seen Matilda on Broadway. To describe the show I’ll need most of the superlatives I have. Wow.
First, let me set the stage. I’m not a big fan of musicals, and I’ve passed that on to Olive. “Why do they have to sing? Why can’t people just say words?” she’ll ask. But everyone once in a while, a musical will break through our thick shells and we’ll be in love. Most Broadway shows we see are so polished that you can almost imagine some of the performers on autopilot. Matilda has a rare feeling of spontaneity. It’s intentionally unkempt and rough around the edges, aided by the performances of some seriously talented kids.
In case you don’t know the source material by Roald Dahl, Matilda is about a precocious little girl who is reviled by her parents. She escapes into books and into little bits of naughtiness to get back at her horrid parents. (Believe me, you root for the girl.) When she begins school, her life is balanced between a sweet teacher who sees Matilda’s potential and the fearsome Miss Trunchbull, the bully who runs the school. Matilda’s mind is so advanced that she even develops superpowers, all the better to get back a the evildoers. As with most adaptations, I highly recommend reading the book before seeing the show for the greatest emotional impact. The show does a great job with the book, quite faithful except several scenes where Matilda is a storyteller, spinning an epic yarn for the librarian, Mrs. Phelps. Though this is a departure, it ties back to the book nicely while creating some of the most visually appealing scenes in the show.
The cast is amazing. On the night we were there, Bailey Ryon played Matilda (she’s one of four actresses that rotate through the part). She was perfectly Matilda, unware of the greatest of her ability and just the right amount of naughty. Chris Hoch made a hilarious Miss Trunchbull, and as the parents, Lesli Margherita and Gabriel Ebert were just the right amount of over-the-top camp. And, as I mentioned before, the kids! Oh, these kids. So frickin’ talented in both singing and dancing. They pound on desks and swing out over the audience and get swung around by their pigtails. When they revolt, it’s delicious.
The music rocks. I’ve never done this for a show ever, but when it was over I bought the CD. I’ve been listening to the song “Revolting Children” on loop ever since. I also bought myself a Trunch sweatshirt so I can walk around the house doing my best Miss Trunchbull impression, threatening to put the kids in “chokey,” the torture closet of doom. (That’s good parenting, right?) I also bought Olive a “sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty” t-shirt to reinforce this great message from the show — when things are unfair, you fight for what’s right. Even if you’re a kid.