|Matilda - Coming At You.|
Perhaps it is because I have never read Roald Dahl’s book of Matilda, or perhaps it was being trapped in a theater for over two hours with a chorus of children screeching at me, but, whatever the reason, I found no joy in Matilda, now at the Sam Shubert Theater. Matilda arrives on a tray of laurels from London, the most anticipated show since Billy Elliot. I found it loud, aggressively mean and altogether un-charming.
Starting with the good points, the sets are interesting, fantastical and fun, converting the Shubert into a playground of faux scrabble sets. And young Frenie Acoba, playing background child Lavender, is a delight.
And there we complete our tour on the charms of Matilda.
The story of Matilda Wormwood is one of excessive hardship for the young child. Her birth is a surprise to her ballroom competing mother – apparently unaware she was pregnant until her water broke, and her smarmy used car salesman father – unaware the child is a girl even after seeing the little bundle of joy sans “thingy”. This is their second child, the grunting brother Tommy, hovers in the home scenes screaming at the audience. Guffaws ensue.
|Judah Bellamy, Lesli Margherita & Gebriel Ebert: Matilda's Family|
Lesli Margherita and Gabriel Ebert play these one-note characters excellently; the more I saw them the less I enjoyed them. Ms. Margherita sings a number that sums up the show for me, “Loud”. The gist of which is, if you don’t know something, just be LOUD – a message the writers took to heart. Matilda’s parents berate her for reading and thinking, thrilled when she finally hits five years old when they can finally send her off to school.
School, in this case, is a torture chamber where older students prey on younger students and the staff preys on everyone - which is the textbook definition of bullying. Here we are introduced to Matilda’s teacher – wane and skittish Miss Honey, Lauren Ward in excellent voice and wilting character. Miss Honey is frightened by life, class and, most of all, Miss Trunchbull – the Headmistress. Miss Trunchbull, in true British Panto fashion, is played broadly by Bertie Carvel as the "bloke in the frock". The word misogyny probably has no place in a kid’s musical like this, but I cannot think of any other way to put it. Miss Truchbull is unattractive in the extreme, torturous to children and (hilariously?) she was the women’s hammer throw champion of the UK at some point. A little of Miss Trunchbull goes a long way, and there is a lot of Miss Teunchbull.
Matilda is played by four different girls. I saw Bailey Ryon for 2/3s of the show and she was competent and pleasant. She had an expressive voice and personality. In the last third of the show, Milly Shapiro had to step in, due to an injury to Ms. Ryon. Ms. Shapiro did a very good job picking up the role without missing a beat. The two girls' drastically different takes on the role mean that your experience may vary.
Matilda’s brand of pluck and vigor, of course, changes the direction of everyone around her. She doesn’t change, mind you. In her very first song, she sings about having to be a little bit “Naughty” - and she reprises the song and sentiment at the end of the show. There isn’t any growth in character of Matilda or any other character. Miss Honey doesn't find her own voice; Matilda fixes Miss Honey’s problems by frightening Miss Trunchbill. Matilda’s parents don't change either. At long last, rather than value their daughter; they hightail it out of the country sans child. And all ends well.
Most songs are yelled at the audience by enthusiastic children, which is energetic if not understandable. It makes one think fondly of Lou Grant’s comment, “I hate spunk.” Director Matthew Warchus does an amazing job of keeping the action moving and the audience engaged. My congratulations go out to him.
Book; Dennis Kelly, Muisc & Lyrics: Tim Minchin, Based on the book by: Roald Dahl
Director: Matthew Warchus
Cast: Sophia Gennusa, Oona Laurence, Bailey Ryon, Milly Shapiro, Bertie Carvel, Gabriel Ebert, Lesli Margherita, Lauren Ward