When I was in London last summer, I was faced with a dilemma: If I only had time to see one musical, which one should it be? Google results with all the different choices and opinions only added to the dilemma. So I asked a prominent figure in the theater business whom I could access easily: The ticket box guy.
This was what he said: “If you want to see a show that everybody loves, go see Matilda.”
Matilda the Musical is an adaptation of a book written by one of the most celebrated and imaginative children storytellers of our time, Roald Dahl. I figured with seven Laurence Olivier and three Tony awards, the show couldn’t go wrong. The book had been adapted to the big screen with the same title, directed by Danny DeVito with Mara Wilson as Matilda back in 1996. It had also been made into television series before it was brought to the stage in 2010 at West End.
Although the only available seat was at the furthest end of the highest row—the show had already been fully booked for weeks—I followed my ticket box guy’s advise and bought it.
So, is it any good? Well, let me tell you a bit about the story first.
The storyline of Roald Dahl’s Matilda follows a little girl who fights the injustice and unfairness around her. Since she was born, Matilda has always been considered a nuisance to her sleazy used-car dealer father and ballroom-dancing obsessed mother, Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood.
This is described in the opening number of the musical, aptly titled “Miracle,” that gives audience the backdrop of the story that most parents love their children unconditionally and think their bundle of joy a miracle. Well, not all.
Matilda’s parents are selfish dimwitted people who are oblivious to their daughter’s incredible talents. Year after year, her television addict parents and big brother verbally abuse her all the time.
When enough is enough, Matilda is determined to change the course of her life. She believes that “just because you find that life's not fair, it doesn't mean that you just have to grin and bear it.” And being little is no excuse, “you mustn't let a little thing like 'little' stop you.”
She pulls some pranks every time her parents misbehave. One time, she glues her father’s hat to his head. Another time, she hides a talking parrot inside the chimney causing her family to think that there is a ghost in the house.
When Matilda is old enough to go to school, she faces another grown-up bully in the form of the school headmistress, Miss Trunchbull. This mannish former hammer-throwing champion is a terror to everyone at the school, particularly Matilda’s first grade teacher, Miss Honey.
Meanwhile, Matilda and Miss Honey bond quickly. The little girl is touched by her teacher’s kindness, while the sweet and jumpy Miss Honey is wowed by Matilda’s superior intelligence and maturity. As they get closer, Matilda learns the root of Miss Honey’s suffering is none other than Miss Trunchbull, her aunt and guardian.
After wrongfully accused of a prank she didn’t do by Miss Trunchbull, Matilda learns that she has a telekinetic power. With her newfound strength, Matilda is determined to make her headmistress pay for all of her bullying and evil doings. And as this is a children’s story, there will always be a happy ending. Matilda finally defeats the tyrant Miss Trunchbull.
Whoever came up with the idea to give the part of Miss Trunchbull to a male actor, allow me to say that it was a brilliant idea! No wonder Bertie Carvel who plays the original Miss Trunchbull won Laurence Olivier award for best leading actor, along with all the girls who play Matilda.
A musical is as good as its book and music. Hats off to Dennis Kelly who writes the book and Tim Minchin who composes the music and writes the lyrics that successfully capture the spirit of rebellion of a five year old girl in Roald Dahl’s book. The set and the background, scattered notes and the swing—oh the swing—have brought back fond memories of childhood for the grown-ups among the audience when life is all about homework and playing. It was fantastic.
So did Matilda live up to the ticket guy’s recommendation?
I have one simple rule to judge whether a musical is good or not: a good musical makes people humming their favorite song on the way home. And after two hours and thirty minutes, I found myself outside of the theater grinning from ear to ear and humming:
And when I grow up,
I will be smart enough to answer all
the questions that you need to know the answers to
before you're grown up
*Roald Dahl’s Matilda is scheduled to play on Cambridge Theater until May 2014.
About Rio Rinaldo
A lazy bum who wishfully thinks he could have more time to read and write when he's no longer a corporate slave, but who falls prey to the magic of the small screen, watching reruns of The Big Bang Theory and Friends. He loves to eat and travel and recently seen sipping coffee while queuing for seven different plays and musicals in London, including Roald Dahl's Matilda. He’s currently working on social media and his next mission-impossible project: raising his old blog from the dead.