Note: This article is part of a bigger project honoring strong females, fictional and real, in theatre as part of Women’s History Month.
by Angela Tricarico
Matilda Wormwood is Broadway’s biggest little hero. She’s still just a little girl, but is one of the strongest female characters on Broadway, even without her superpowers. She’s brave, selfless, caring, extremely smart, and, according to her teacher Miss Honey, she’s a miracle. Her family situation is less than ideal, but she’s able to rise above that. She’s also sassy and not afraid to be naughty. She says so herself in “Naughty” as she adds peroxide to her father’s hair products, and again when subsequently he glues the hat he often wears to his head.
Matilda puts the needs of others ahead of herself and doesn’t take the time to work on herself until the end of the musical. When she realizes that something isn’t fair, she does something to help. She stands up for the people who can’t stand up for themselves, specifically her classmate Nigel when he is in trouble with the terrifying Miss Trunchbull. She uses her advanced knowledge to trick Miss Trunchbull, and gets Nigel out of trouble. It’s selfless of her.
Intelligence is another one of Matilda’s great qualities. She’s always carrying around stacks of books, and references a lot of high-level authors despite being only five years old. She can do complex math, spell extremely well, and speak Russian – and it’s all self-taught. Miss Honey is the only person who realizes how smart she really is, and when she tries to get someone else to notice, she is just dismissed as being boring, just like Matilda.
As the musical goes on, the audience realize that Matilda has a wild imagination, until it’s clear that it isn’t really imagination at all but reality. She uses her newly-realized superpowers to help Miss Honey escape the terrible life she had been living, and terrifies Miss Trunchbull, all while distracting her to keep her entire class out of trouble. It’s only then, once Miss Trunchbull is gone, that she betters her own situation.
Matilda was an unwanted child; that’s clear from the first ten minutes. Her parents favor Michael, their other child who does nothing but stare at a television in a nearly catatonic trance. Her mother doesn’t care for her and her father mocks her for her genuine interest in books and reading. He also doesn’t seem to accept that she is a girl, referring to her as “the boy” all the time. Because she’s such an outcast in her own family, she turns to books. Her family, who spend the entirety of the musical ridiculing her, turn to her in a time of need and she uses her intelligence to help them. It’s telling of the kind of girl Matilda is; despite everything these people put her through for five years, she steps up for them and saves them from the Russian mafia. Her father then agrees to let her stay with Miss Honey. Matilda finally gets her happy ending, after insuring happy endings for the people around her first.
When I saw Matilda for the first time, I found myself leaving the theater wanting to be more like this little girl. I played “Naughty” on repeat for weeks, because Matilda’s act one solo had some of the best lyrics I’d heard in a really long time. The lines “even if you’re little, you can do a lot” are so important to her character. I loved that Matilda was saying nobody but her could change her story, and how as the musical progressed, that statement rang true. Matilda didn’t let her awful family define her.
William Shakespeare wrote “though she be but little she is fierce”, and I don’t think there’s a better quote out there to describe Matilda Wormwood.