I was a tad nervous when I walked into the the Shubert theater to see Matilda: The Musical, the Broadway adaptation of Roald Dahl’s story that officially opens tonight. The book manages to present this weird, perfect mix of cynicism and hopefulness—it walks that line only Roald Dahl can really walk—and I was worried that a big musical production might iron all of its nuances right out.
Was I ever wrong. There’s nothing super-Disney about this show (though the kids in the audience still went absolutely wild for it), and thank goodness. Tim Minchin’s music and lyrics don’t drown the story in pounds of sugar—they keep the book’s sharp edge and wit, even during the naturally mushier moments.
And the CAST, you guys! First of all, there are the four little wünderkinds who alternate playing Matilda, the kid genius with telekinetic powers. For anyone under the age of 12 to carry a show is pretty darn impressive (see: Billy Elliot‘s Billys), but the Matilda I saw, Milly Shapiro, was already holding the stage like a seasoned veteran. That’s not to mention the other youngsters who play Matlida’s classmates, all of whom manage to develop memorable characters. (Jared Parker, aka Nigel: You are my hero. I’ll hang out with you in Chokey anytime.)
And then there’s Miss Trunchbull. Oh, man, Miss Trunchbull. Let’s put it this way: She’s played by a he (Bertie Carvel). She’s the most delightfully nasty, icky, terrifying school headmistress you’ll ever meet. And she totally steals the show.
Oh, and there’s a TON of very dance-y dancing—which isn’t a surprise, given that the choreographer is Billy Elliot‘s Peter Darling. You get everything from a flashy spoof on competitive ballroom dance to a sweet number involving playground swings. And that explains why the rest of the cast is filled out with some of our favorite Broadway dancers—including cutie Ryan Steele, of newspaper-fouettéing Newsies fame.
The short version of this rant? Matilda is a musical that brings Roald Dahl’s crazy world to sharp, hilarious, wonderful life. See it!