Matilda the Musical
||This article may contain an excessive amount of intricate detail that may only interest a specific audience. (September 2014)|
|Basis||Matilda by Roald Dahl|
2011 West End
2015 US National Tour
|Awards||Critics' Circle Theatre Award for Best Musical
Theatre Awards UK Best Musical Production 2011
Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Musical
New York Drama Critics' Circle Best Musical
Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Musical
Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical
Matilda the Musical is a stage musical based on the children's novel of the same name by Roald Dahl. It was written by Dennis Kelly, with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin. The musical's narrative centres on Matilda, a precocious 5-year-old girl who loves reading, overcomes obstacles caused by her family and school, and helps her teacher to reclaim her life. After a twelve-week trial run staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) at Stratford-upon-Avon from November 2010 to January 2011, it received its West End premiere on 24 November 2011 at the Cambridge Theatre and its Broadway premiere on 11 April 2013 at the Shubert Theatre.
Matilda has received widespread critical acclaim and box-office popularity, winning seven 2012 Olivier Awards, including Best New Musical—the most such awards ever won by a single show at the time. As of the 2013 Olivier Awards, the show now jointly holds the record with the play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, although it still holds the record for most Olivier awards won by a musical. At the 2013 Tony Awards, the show won five awards, including the Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical.
The show is currently running in London's West End and on Broadway in New York, with upcoming national tour in the US from May 2015 and opening in Sydney, Australia in July 2015.
- 1 Productions
- 2 Synopsis
- 3 Musical numbers
- 4 Recordings
- 5 Principal roles and original cast members
- 6 Film adaptation
- 7 Critical reception
- 8 Awards and nominations
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
Stratford and London
In 2009, the RSC announced its intention to stage a musical adaptation of Matilda, engaging Dennis Kelly as playwright, Tim Minchin as the composer and lyricist, Matthew Warchus as director, Chris Nightingale as orchestrator and music supervision, Rob Howell as set designer and Paul Kieve as illusionist and special effects creator. The musical opened at the Courtyard Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, on 9 December 2010 following previews from 9 November. The show is choreographed by Peter Darling. Bertie Carvel headlined as Miss Trunchbull, with Paul Kaye and Josie Walker as Matilda's parents Mr and Mrs Wormwood, and Lauren Ward as Miss Honey. Three young actresses, Adrianna Bertola, Josie Griffiths and Kerry Ingram, alternated in the title role. The show ended its premiere engagement on 30 January 2011.
In 2011, the musical received its West End debut at London's Cambridge Theatre. The show was originally scheduled to begin previews on 18 October 2011, but because of structural and installation work at the theatre, the start of the performances was delayed until 25 October. The opening night was postponed from 22 November to 24 November. The musical opened in London to uniformly positive reviews; Kaye and Carvel received high praise for their performances. Many of the principal adult cast from the Stratford run reprised their roles in London. Eleanor Worthington Cox, Cleo Demetriou, Sophia Kiely and Kerry Ingram—the only one to reprise her role from Stratford—rotated in the title role.
In October 2011, Matilda won Best Musical and Best Actor (Bertie Carvel) in the Theatre Awards UK, and in November 2011 it won the Ned Sherrin Award for Best Musical as part of The Evening Standard Awards. The production was nominated in all 10 categories for which it was eligible at the 2012 Olivier Awards. The 'Four Matildas' performed "Naughty" at the awards show. Matilda won 7 Oliviers: Best New Musical, Best Director (Warchus), Best Actor in a Musical (Carvel), Best Actress in a Musical (all four Matildas), Best Theatre Choreographer (Darling), Best Set Design (Howell) and Best Sound Design (Baker). This was a record number for any show in the event's 36th year history.
In April 2012, Steve Furst and Haley Flaherty took over the roles of Mr. Wormwood and Miss Honey from Kaye and Ward. Two of the original London Matildas (Ingram and Kiely) were replaced by Jade Marner and Isobelle Molloy (Molloy originally played Amanda in the original London cast before being cast as Matilda). Bertie Carvel left in July 2012 and the role of Miss Trunchbull was filled by David Leonard, although he did not start until the main cast change in August because of injury. At this cast change four new girls took over as Matilda; Lucy-Mae Beacock, Hayley Canham, Chloe Hawthorn and Lara Wollington.
On 19 November 2012, the London cast were invited to perform at the 100th "Royal Variety Performance" for television station ITV which was broadcast live on 3 December. They performed "When I Grow Up" and "Naughty" with Chloe in the lead role, with the other 3 girls appearing in the announcement of the performance.
In March 2013, Hayley Canham left the show and was replaced as Matilda by Elise Blake and Cristina Fray. Lucy-Mae Beacock left in early May 2013. The next cast change occurred in September 2013. This time most of the adult cast changed, along with Chloe Hawthorn who left on 1 September. 2 new Matildas—Lollie McKenzie and Georgia Pemberton—started the following week. Lara Wollington stayed for another four weeks, finishing on 29 September—making her run the longest of any Matilda to date.
Of the Matildas only Lollie McKenzie stayed during the cast change in March 2014. This cast change started with the departure of Elise Blake on 9 March along with other child cast members. She was replaced by Tasha Chapple. Fray and Pemberton were replaced by two new Matildas, Cara Jenkins and Lottie Sicilia, who debuted in the role in the following weeks, on 18 March and 25 March respectively.
McKenzie and Jenkins departed the show in 7 September and 5 October. Two new Matildas—Matilda Shapland and Violet Tucker—debuted in the roles on 09 and 19 September. Shapland was previously in Les Misérables, while Tucker had her West End debut in the title role. Of the Matildas only Matilda Shapland and Violet Tucker both stayed during the cast change in March 2015. This cast change started with the departure of Tasha Chapple and Lottie Sicilia along with other child cast members. They will be replaced by Anna-Louise Knight and Lara McDonnell.
On 29 February 2012, the RSC announced the show would transfer to Broadway in Spring 2013; it would still be set in England despite initial pressure for the show to be Americanised. On 19 July 2012, it was announced that the show would open on 11 April 2013 at the Shubert Theatre, with previews commencing on 4 March 2013. Bertie Carvel and Lauren Ward reprised their roles as Miss Trunchbull and Miss Honey. Ted Wilson also continued as Eric. On 15 November 2012, the Associated Press announced that 9-year-old Sophia Gennusa, and 10-year-olds Oona Laurence, Bailey Ryon and Milly Shapiro—making their Broadway debuts—would alternately play Matilda.
The transfer cost US$16 million to produce; it opened as planned on 11 April 2013, with Sophia Gennusa playing the leading role. Small changes were made from the London production; some lyrics were changed to suit American audiences and more scenes used the stalls/orchestra seating area of the theatre. The Broadway production also introduced an overture and pre-show curtain, as of June 2013, because of complaints that the show started late because of the pre show set up.
On 1 September 2013, Carvel and Ward played their final performances, Jill Paice joined the cast as Miss Honey and played her first performance on 3 September. Craig Bierko took over as Miss Trunchbull on 17 September, after recovering from an injury. In October 2013, Matilda broke the box office record for the Shubert Theatre. On 19 November, it was announced that Bierko will not return to the role of Miss Trunchbull due to "medical circumstances", following a shoulder injury sustained during rehearsals. Chris Hoch, understudy for Miss Trunchbull, has been given a contract to perform the role for the duration of Bierko's absence into January.
On 25 November, The Wall Street Journal reported that the original Matildas would be bowing out "in the next two months". On 11 December, it was announced that Paige Brady, Gabriella Pizzolo, Ripley Sobo and Ava Ulloa would take over the title role from exiting actresses Gennusa, Laurence, Ryon and Shapiro. Brady, Pizzolo and Ulloa will be making their Broadway debuts; Sobo previously appeared in Once. They would begin performances "over the course of the next few weeks". Laurence and Gennusa had their final performances on 14 and 21 December while Ryon and Shapiro had their final performances on 11 and 18 January. Brady and Pizzolo made their debut performances in the title role on 19 and 22 December while Sobo and Ulloa made their debut performances in the role on 12 and 18 January.
On 31 January, it was reported that Christopher Sieber and Matt Harrington would be joining the company as Miss Trunchbull and Mr Wormwood, respectively. Harrington made his debut on 4 March. Sieber would initially join the company on 18 March, but after sustaining a hand injury during rehearsals, would have his debut in the role sometime in April. While Sieber recovered from his injury, understudy Ben Thompson played the role for a limited engagement. Sieber finally stepped into the role on 18 April.
On 21 August, it was reported that Tori Feinstein, Eliza Holland Madore, Brooklyn Shuck and Fina Strazza will be take over the title role from Paige Brady, Gabriella Pizzolo, Ripley Sobo and Ava Ulloa. Feinstein and Strazza will be making their Broadway debuts; Madore and Shuck previously appeared in Once and Annie, respectively. Brady and Sobo had their final performances on 23 and 30 August while Ulloa and Pizzolo had their final performances on 06 and 13 September. Strazza and Shuck debuted in the role on 24 and 31 August while Madore and Feinstein had their debuts on 07 and 14 September. The Broadway production recouped its $16 million investment on December after more than a year and a half.
On 1 June 2013, Tim Minchin announced during an interview that the show was preparing for a US national tour. Minchin said, "We just got it up in New York, there’s a touring version that is meant to be going on in America...". On 6 February 2014, it was announced that the tour would begin in 2015 with technical rehearsals and performances at the Shubert Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut before its official launch in May at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles, California. Additional stops include SHN Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco, 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle and AT&T Performing Arts Center in Dallas, with more stops to be announced.
In July 2013, Minchin said that an Australian production is planned for 2015. On 26 February 2014, it was announced that the show will open at the Sydney Lyric Theatre in August 2015. Louise Withers is set to produce the show.
As a chorus of children boast about being their parents' "miracles", the ballroom dancing obsessed Mrs. Wormwood gives birth to a baby girl named Matilda. The doctor thinks Matilda is the most beautiful child he has ever seen but Mrs. Wormwood is only worried about a dancing contest she has missed; Mr. Wormwood, a used-car salesman and television addict, hoping for a boy, dismisses the child as ugly and is unable and unwilling to accept her as a girl, ("Miracle")
Five years later, Matilda Wormwood, an avid reader, lives unhappily with her parents and her older brother, Michael. The Wormwoods are oblivious to her ability and frequently mock and verbally abuse her. After her father mocks her, Matilda goes to her room, and begins to read a few of her many books. Inspired by the stories in her books, she decides to get even by adding some of her mother's hydrogen peroxide to her father's hair oil, leaving Mr. Wormwood with bright green hair, ("Naughty").
At the local library Matilda tells the librarian, Mrs. Phelps, a story about a world-famous acrobat and escapologist couple who long to have a child but cannot. To distract themselves from their sadness, they announce to the world's press that they will perform an exciting and dangerous new act. When Mrs. Phelps asks what happens, Matilda doesn't know, but will be back to tell her more.
The next day is Matilda's first day at school, where the older children tell the kids that school isn't fun and more like a prison, ("School Song"). The kids meet their teacher, Miss Honey, and she soon becomes impressed by Matilda's precociousness and abilities. She decides to recommend to the headmistress that Matilda be moved to the top class with the older children but becomes frightened as she stands outside the Principal's Office, ("Pathetic"). When she enters, Miss Trunchbull, a child-hating, disciplinarian headmistress and an Olympic hammer throwing champion, dismisses Miss Honey's suggestion and lectures her on the importance of following rules, ("The Hammer").
At the Wormwood's house, Mr. Wormwood is frustrated about losing a sale of worn-out cars to a group of rich Russians. He takes his frustration out on Matilda and destroys one of her library books, ("Naughty (Reprise)"), prompting her to put superglue around the rim of his hat.
At school, Matilda befriends a fellow student named Lavender and later learns of Miss Trunchbull's cruel punishments, including the Chokey; a tiny cupboard lined with sharp objects in which she locks disobedient children for hours, ("The Chokey Chant"). After being accused of pouring treacle on Miss Trunchbull's chair, Nigel warns the other kids that she is after him and Matilda, seeing that this was not fair, decides to help Nigel. When they hear Miss Trunchbull coming, she tells the children to throw their blazers on Nigel. When Miss Trunchbull asks Matilda of Nigel's whereabouts, Matilda 'explains' that Nigel has Narcolepsy and had fallen asleep, which is why the children's coats are on him, and that he had been there for over an hour, so he couldn't have put the treacle on her chair. Believing the story, Miss Trunchbull takes her anger out on another student, Amanda, to which she begins to spin the small girl around by her pigtails and hammer throws her across the playing field.
Meanwhile, Miss Honey decides to visit the Wormwoods to express her recommendation that Matilda be put in an advanced class. She meets Mrs. Wormwood and her dance partner Rudolpho. It soon becomes apparent that Mrs. Wormwood does not care for her daughter's intelligence and she mocks Miss Honey's and Matilda's interest in books and intellect, ("Loud"). Alone outside the Wormwood's house, Miss Honey is desperate to help Matilda but feels powerless to do so, ("This Little Girl").
Matilda returns to the library, and tells Mrs. Phelps more about the acrobat and the escapologist. The acrobat's sister, a former world champion hammer-thrower who loved to scare small children, has arranged their performance. The escapologist announces that the performance has been cancelled because the acrobat is pregnant with a daughter. The crowd is thrilled, but the acrobat's sister is furious at the prospect of refunding the crowd's money and produces a contract binding them to perform the act or go to prison. Not knowing what happens next, Matilda tells Mrs. Phelps that she will come back to tell her more of the story.
At school, Bruce Bogtrotter, a boy in Matilda's class, has stolen a slice of Miss Trunchbull's personal chocolate cake. Miss Trunchbull punishes Bruce by forcing him to eat the entire cake in front of the class, who, along with Miss. Honey, bravely support him, ("Bruce"). After Bruce has finished the cake, the class celebrates his success but Miss Trunchbull drags Bruce away to the Chokey, ending Act 1 with Matilda stating, "But that's not right!".
Act 2 begins with Mr. Wormwood advising the audience against reading in favour of watching television, ("Telly"). Afterwards, Lavender proceeds to tell the audience of her plan to put a newt in Miss Trunchbull's jug of water later in the show. At a playground, the children sing about what they hope life would be like when they grow up, ("When I Grow Up").
Matilda is back at the library and tells Mrs. Phelps more of the story of the acrobat and the escapologist. Bound by their contract, they perform their trick, which goes well until the acrobat is fatally injured, living just long enough to give birth to their child. The escapologist invites the acrobat's sister to move in with him to help look after his daughter. Unbeknown to the escapologist, the girl's aunt is secretly cruel to her, forcing her to perform menial tasks and abusing her verbally and physically. Matilda, still not knowing how it ends, promises to return and finish the story.
Mr. Wormwood returns home from work pleased with his success in selling his worn-out cars to the wealthy Russians, having used an automatic drill to wind back their speedometers (sic). Matilda is annoyed at her father's deceit and scolds him which angers and causes him to lock her in her bedroom. That night, Matilda continues the story of the acrobat and the escapologist. After years of cruelty, the aunt's rage has grown; one day, she beats the daughter, locks her in the cellar and leaves. That evening, the escapologist returned home early and discovers the extent of the aunt's abuse. As he comforts his daughter, he promises her that he will always be there for her, ("I'm Here"). When his daughter goes to sleep, the escapologist, filled with rage, runs out to find the aunt, but is never seen again.
The next day, Miss Trunchbull forces Miss Honey's class to undergo a gruelling physical education lesson in an attempt to find anyone planning on rebelling against her, ("The Smell of Rebellion"). Miss Trunchbull then discovers the newt Lavender put in her jug; she accuses one of the boys, Eric, who has already riled her during the lesson, and starts to punish him. Matilda, not standing for this, scolds Miss Trunchbull. Outraged, Miss Trunchbull begins to verbally abuse Matilda. As she does so, Matilda becomes very angry, explaining to the audience what she has been feeling the entire time, ("Quiet"). Matilda soon discovers she can move objects with her mind and successfully tips over the water jug causing the newt to land on Miss Trunchbull. Terrified by the newt, Miss Trunchbull leaves. Miss Honey advises the children that they go home before Miss Trunchbull returns. After they leave, Matilda demonstrates her powers to Miss Honey, who is surprised and invites Matilda to her house for tea.
At her house, Miss Honey tells Matilda of her childhood and the cruel and abusive aunt who had looked after her as a child after her parents had died. Desperate to escape, Miss Honey found refuge in an old farm shed which she moved into and lives in abject poverty. Despite this, Miss Honey finds beauty in her shabby living conditions, ("My House"). As Miss Honey tells her story, she produces a scarf which Matilda recognises from her story of the acrobat and the escapologist. She realises that the story she thought she had made up was actually the true story of Miss Honey's childhood. She realises that the escapologist was Miss Honey's father, Magnus, and that her wicked aunt was Miss Trunchbull. She deduces that when Magnus went after Trunchbull, she killed him, out of fear of what he would do to her.
Back at school, Miss Trunchbull forces the children to take a spelling test, threatening that anyone who misspells a word will be sent to The Chokey. The children begin to spell every word correct, so Miss Trunchbull invents a made up word in order to punish Lavender. When she gets the word wrong, and as Miss Trunchbull is taking Lavender to The Chokey, her classmates deliberately misspell simple words, telling Miss Trunchbull she cannot send them all to The Chokey. Unswayed, Miss Trunchbull reveals that she had built many more Chokeys. As she scolds the children, Matilda uses her powers to write on the blackboard and convinces Miss Trunchbull that it is the ghost of Magnus, demanding that she give his daughter back her house or that he will get her like she got him. Miss Trunchbull, being very superstitious, runs from the school, never to return or be heard from again, as the children celebrate their freedom, ("Revolting Children").
At the library, Miss Honey and Mrs. Phelps relay the aftermath of the events. A few days after Miss Trunchbull ran away, the will of Miss Honey's parents had been found; they left all their money and their house to her. Miss Honey becomes the new headmistress of the school, making it a better place for the children to learn. We also learn that Matilda is unable to use her powers again because she has no reason to. Yet, Miss Honey is sad that a child who has helped others is still stuck in an unloving home.
The Wormwoods arrive at the library in a panic, telling Matilda that she must leave with them because they are fleeing to Spain after the Russians had discovered that they had been sold broken cars and are after her father. Matilda does not want to leave and Miss Honey offers her father that Matilda stay with her, but the Mafia arrive before a decision can be made. Sergei, the head of the Mafia, is impressed and moved by Matilda's intellect and respect when she speaks to him in Russian, ("This Little Girl (Reprise)"), and at the request of Matilda, he agrees not to harm the Wormwoods providing he never has to deal with her father again. Mr. Wormwood agrees to let Matilda live with Miss Honey, Matilda thanks him and they shake hands. The Wormwoods, along with Rudolpho leave.
Matilda and Miss Honey hug and take no notice of the wormwoods leaving, "because they had found each other", and cartwheel off to the silhouette of Miss Honey's new house. The musical ends with the cast on scooters, as they continue to imagine what it will be like when they grow up ("When I Grow Up (Reprise)").
#Not present on any of the cast recordings
The instrumentation uses a ten-to-thirteen-piece orchestra, including keyboards, reeds, brass, strings and percussion. The performances run 2 hours and 40 minutes, including one interval. The "Overture" is included in the Broadway production only while the "Entr'acte" was only used in the London production where it has now been cut apart from the final bars which lead into "When I Grow Up".
The cast album recorded by the original Stratford company was released on CD in September 2011 and a month later as a Digital Download. It features a hidden spoken track which follows "When I Grow Up" (Reprise). This is the full version speech that is heard in part, before, during and after Quiet in the show A new Original Broadway cast album was released on 22 September 2013 as a CD. This contains more tracks than the UK recording and includes "The Chokey Chant". The deluxe version features Matilda's stories of the Acrobat and the Escapologist, the song "Perhaps a Child" sung by Sergei, which was cut from the show early on in the Stratford previews due to time constraints, and "Naughty" with all four Broadway Matildas singing.
Principal roles and original cast members
|Character||Original Stratford actor
|Original West End actor
|Original Broadway actor
|Matilda Wormwood||Adrianna Bertola
Eleanor Worthington Cox
|Miss Trunchbull||Bertie Carvel|
|Miss Honey||Lauren Ward|
|Mr. Wormwood||Paul Kaye||Gabriel Ebert|
|Mrs. Wormwood||Josie Walker||Lesli Margherita|
|Michael||Peter Howe||Taylor Trensch|
|Mrs. Phelps||Melanie La Barrie||Karen Aldridge|
|Cook||Verity Bentham||Betsy Struxness|
|The Escapologista||Matthew Malthouse||Ben Thompson|
|Sergei||Alistair Parker||John Sanders|
|Henchwoman||did not appear||Lucy Thatcher||Tamika Sonja Lawrence|
|The Acrobat||Emily Shaw||Samantha Sturm|
|Teacher||Michael Rouse||Tim Walton||does not appear|
|Doctor||Michael Rouse||Tim Walton||John Arthur Greene|
|Party Entertainer||does not appear||John Sanders|
|Rudolpho||Michael Rouse||Gary Watson||Phillip Spaeth|
|Bruce Bogtrotter||Kuan Frye
Luke Kolbe Mannikus
Misty May Tindall
Erica Simone Barnett
|Amanda Thripp||Katie Lee
Lucy May Pollard
Erica Simone Barnett
Luke Kolbe Mannikus
Luke Kolbe Mannikus
Madilyn Jaz Morrow
Madilyn Jaz Morrow
|does not appear|
- ^ Role originally 'The Escapologist' in Broadway run but was later changed to 'The Escape Artist'.
- Notable West End replacements
- Matilda – Isobelle Molloy, Jade Marner, Hayley Canham, Lucy-Mae Beacock, Chloe Hawthorn, Lara Wollington Elise Blake, Cristina Fray, Georgia Pemberton, Lollie McKenzie Lottie Sicilia, Cara Jenkins, Tasha Chapple, Matilda Shapland, Violet Tucker, Anna-Louise Knight, Lara McDonnell
- Miss Trunchbull – David Leonard, Alex Gaumond, Craige Els
- Miss Honey – Haley Flaherty, Lara Denning
- Mrs Phelps – Lisa Davina Phillip
- Mr Wormwood – Steve Furst, James Clyde
- Mrs Wormwood – Annette McLaughlin, Kay Murphy
- Michael Wormwood – Nick Searle, Joshua Wyatt
- Cook – Madeleine Harland, Lucy-Jane Addock
- Sergei – Antonio Magro, Will Kenning
- Rudolpho – Marc Antolin, Joshua Lay, Jason Winter
- Escapologist – Antony Lawrence
- Acrobat – Maria Lawson, Lara Denning, Charlotte Scott
- Notable Broadway replacements
- Matilda - Paige Brady, Gabriella Pizzolo, Ripley Sobo, Ava Ulloa, Tori Feinstein, Eliza Holland Madore, Brooklyn Shuck, Fina Strazza
- Miss Trunchbull – Craig Bierko, Chris Hoch, Ben Thompson, Christopher Sieber
- Miss Honey – Jill Paice, Alison Luff 
- Mrs Phelps – Natalie Venetia Belcon
- Mr Wormwood - Matt Harrington
In June 2013, Tim Minchin said a future film adaption was being planned. Minchin said during an interview, "We just got [the show] up in New York, there's a touring version that is meant to be going on in America, concurrently the English version is up, there's a film that will probably be made in the next 4 or 5 years and all this sort of stuff." Mara Wilson, who played Matilda in the original 1996 film adaptation of Dahl's novel, has expressed an interest in having a cameo in a film version if asked. On 15 November 2013, in an article in the Daily Mail it was revealed that Dennis Kelly, who won the Tony for Best Book for Matilda, will write the movie's script, with Minchin penning any additional music required and Warchus, returning to direct. The movie will be released in 2019 at the earliest, due to a Broadway contract stipulating that any film version cannot be released before six years have expired following the show's opening there.
2010 RSC Stratford production
Michael Billington, writing for The Guardian, gave the musical four stars out of five. He praised the adaptation of the book, the "ebullient music and lyrics", the direction, the stage design and the performances—especially Bertie Carvel as Miss Trunchbull. The Independent also gave the show four out of five stars and said, "The Royal Shakespeare Company has struck gold with this wildly entertaining musical … Kelly's clever adaptation and the witty, intricate songs by ... Minchin create a new, improved version of Dahl's story ... Warchus's wondrously well-drilled production finds just the right balance between gleeful grotesque humour and heart-warming poignancy."
Charles Spencer, writing for The Daily Telegraph awarded the show all five stars and praised the "splendidly witty, instantly hummable songs, dazzling choreography, a cast of impossibly cute and delightful children and a fantastic star turn from Bertie Carvel ... [Kelly's] script has both deepened the emotion of Dahl's story while adding loads of splendid jokes of his own", and concluded, "It is funny, heart-warming, and bang-on target". Matt Wolf of The Arts Desk said: "I was struck by the sight of many a child grinning as openly as their adult companions were wiping away tears". Henry Hitchings of the London Evening Standard also praised the performances, direction and design and commented on Minchin's "witty songs [in which] he switches between styles with remarkable dexterity". He continued, "There's a playfulness throughout [the book] that proves intoxicating ... In this lovingly created show, Matilda's magic positively sparkles. There's a cleverness in the writing which ensures that, while it appeals to children, there is plenty for adults to savour ... it's blissfully funny."
The reviews of the London performances were also very positive. Julie carpenter of the Daily Express awarded the show all five stars and called the musical "[g]loriously over the top", and said, "it's an irresistible and ingenious mix of fun, fizz, cruelty, incredible choreography and above all warmth which means we root for the kids from the start. Fantastic." Henry Hitchings' review in the Evening Standard ranked the piece five stars, praising the music and lyrics, book, set design, choreography, direction and performances. The review in The Guardian said, "You'd be a nitwit to miss this hit show." The only complaint in Quentin Letts' five-star review in the Daily Mail was about "overdone amplification". The Stage also gave Matilda five stars, as did Spencer, writing again for The Telegraph. Confirming his impression of the 2010 production, he wrote about the West End transfer:
I suspect it will delight audiences for years to come ... [Kelly's] script actually improves and deepens Dahl's original ... [Minchin's] smashing score ... combines take-home melodies with delicious lyrical wit in songs that consistently develop both the plot and our understanding of the characters. There is an exuberant sense here of two writers who have clicked together ... [Matilda] so wittily excoriates the cruelty and crassness of our age ... Warchus’s thrilling, warm-hearted production, exuberantly designed by Rob Howell and with pin-sharp choreography by Peter Darling, constantly combines comedy with a sense of wonder. The children [and the adult performances are 'hilarious' (Bailey), 'memorable' (Walker and Kaye) and 'touchingly sweet' (Ward)] ... But the star turn is Bertie Carvel".
The Financial Times, The Times and The Sunday Times each awarded the show four stars out of five, but found little to criticise. Ben Brantley, writing for The New York Times, called the adaptation "a sweet and sharp-witted work of translation, which ... turns dark and sodden anxieties into bright and buoyant fantasies [that address] a raging thirst these days for [such] tonics". A year after the show opened, Time Out gave the production four stars out of five, noting the departure of Carvel and calling the show "a little too long and, dramatically, a tad wayward", but nevertheless "wise, wicked, glorious fun."
Most of the New York critics gave the Broadway transfer their highest marks. Brantley wrote: "Matilda works with astonishing slyness and grace to inculcate us with its radical point of view. [It] is about words and language, books and stories, and their incalculable worth as weapons of defense, attack and survival ... Above all it’s an exhilarating tale of empowerment". He also said the child actors "strengthen their diction" so that the "tasty lyrics" could be clearly heard. Richard Zoglin, in Time magazine said that the show is "a fresh start for the Broadway musical" with "a score that seems all but woven into the scenery—simple but distinctive tunes ... intricate lyrics ... Every element of the show seems hand-crafted and right". He said that director Warchus "lets the characters go gloriously over the top (the way children see them), but also brings a hushed intensity". He also said that the second act "runs a bit too long" and that "the combination of shrill child voices, British accents and heavy miking causes many of the lyrics to get muddled". Elisabeth Vincentelli's review in the New York Post said, "Once in a blue moon, a show comes out blazing and restores your faith in Broadway. Matilda The Musical is that show." David Rooney of the Hollywood Reporter said the stage show captured "the unique flavor of Roald Dahl’s classic 1988 children’s novel", and added,"this funhouse fairy tale is by turns riotous and poignant, grotesque and menacing, its campy comic exaggeration equaled only by its transporting emotional power".
David Cote, in Time Out New York wondered whether the show was too English for Broadway tastes; he wrote, "Matilda is a kids' musical, not a musical that happens to be about a kid. As such, its attractions may be limited to younger spectators and die-hard Dahl fans. That would be a pity, since Matilda is wickedly smart and wildly fun". A review in USA Today said the show tries too hard to be clever, but it is affecting and enchanting. Of the British papers reviewing the transfer, The Telegraph gave the show four stars out of five, and said, "There's a harder-edged quality to the New York staging: the general tenor is louder and more exaggerated, and the Gilbertian finesse of [the] astonishing lyrics didn't translate for my companion ... But the tremendous heart and intelligence of the piece remains undimmed." A review by Brendan Lemon in the Financial Times also gave the piece four stars out of five.
Awards and nominations
- Jones, Kenneth. "Clybourne Park, Matilda and Suchet Honored in London's Critics' Circle Theatre Awards" playbill.com, 25 January 2011.
- "Peter Hall and Derek Jacobi among winners at Theatre Awards UK". The Stage. 30 October 2011. Retrieved 19 January 2012.
- "Matilda musical breaks Olivier awards record". BBC. 15 April 2012. Retrieved 15 April 2012.
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