‘Matilda’ on Broadway is full of marvels, magic, & more

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I knew of all the hype and I was a bit skeptical. I was skeptical that it would truly be as good as I wanted it to be. Lucky for me, my average expectations were unfounded and my mind was subsequently blown.

Matilda was just as endearing, magical, high energy, visually pleasing, and smart as I could have ever hoped it would be.

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The colorful set design

The set by Rob Howell is a marvel. The entire façade is covered in lettered tiles and sets a very specific scene evoking reading, learning, children’s games, and children in general. The word tiles are utilized and incorporated throughout the whole show and are as much a part of the story as the plot itself.

The musical sticks to the details of the book rather than the movie but the plot is essentially the same. Matilda, an unloved little girl with comically evil parents, loves books, reading and is very intelligent for a 5-year-old girl. At school she has a caring, sweet waif of a teacher, Miss Honey, who encourages her reading but they both have the terror of a headmistress, Miss Trunchbull, to contend with. Matilda becomes so fed up with how her classmates and Miss Honey are treated by the Trunchbull that she harnesses her anger and intelligence to make magical things happen.

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Cast members of ‘Matilda’

The music by Tim Minchin, though not very memorable on a first listen, fits seamlessly into the story and never interrupts the flow of the show. The choreography by Peter Darling had some of the sharpest and most energetic moves I have seen in a long while. The direction by Matthew Warchus was overall superb. I was very impressed by how well everything fit together. For a show with such outlandish and impossible happenings, it could be easy for the action to seem contrived and for the tricks to seem over the top and out of place, yet everything remained grounded and believable as the audience is transported into Matilda’s world.

As much as the show is about darling Matilda, I appreciated that the story included the ensemble as much as possible. The children and the young adults were very active and exciting to watch during the several group numbers.

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Bailey Ryon, Milly Shapiro, Oona Laurence, & Sophia Gennusa as Matilda

The adorable little nugget who performed the title character the night I saw the show, Bailey Ryon, was precious. There are four lovely girls who alternate performing the role and I can imagine that they are all spunky, smart, intuitive and cute as a button. Ryon’s minuscule size was contrasted by the brilliant Gabriel Ebert as the conniving used car salesman and father Mr. Wormwood. Another comic contrast was Bertie Carvel as the terror to end all terrors, the character Miss Trunchbull.

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Bertie Carvel as Miss Trunchbull & Lauren Ward as Miss Honey

 The physicality of these two men are more representative of Roald Dahl’s written characters than Danny DeVito and Pam Ferris of the 1996 feature film.  Onstage, Ebert is as lanky as they come but still very comfortable in his body. Carvel, on the other hand, captures the man-woman essence of Trunchbull in an effortless blend of physicality and vocal talent.

I was thoroughly captivated by the entire show and sat through most of it with big wide eyes and a smile on my face. The whimsy and wonder is striking and worth of all the hype it has received. The show is perhaps a too trendy to withstand the test of time, but for the moment it is a quality night at the theatre: full of laughter, awe and even a few tears.

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