As the season at Gammage continues, I continue on with my journey to learn more about musical theater and to cultivate an appreciation for it. On the menu for February was Matilda, a musical adaptation of the Roald Dahl children’s book. I was a big fan of the book and the Danny DeVito movie, so I knew I would probably enjoy the musical version.
The story itself centers around a little girl with trouble in her life: bad parents, oppressive headmistresses, and an apathetic brother. There are twists and turns and a bit of magic sprinkled in throughout. The stage production uses a fair amount of real children and adult proxies during big musical numbers. I have to say, it was really challenging for me to understand the children singing for this show. The Sound of Music also had children singing in ensemble, but they were clear and easy to understand. In Matilda, however, there were points where I couldn’t make out words in the musical cacophony. It made enjoying some of the larger numbers not quite as enjoyable. I wonder if it was poor sound design or rigging that hurt the production versus the talent of the children, because the children were very talented.
The little girl they had cast as Matilda was amazing; she was so dynamic and engaging throughout the show. She was easily the best part of the musical and I’m glad I got to see her perform. The sets were very nice as well: lots of playing on letter blocks to make fences, desks, and unique blocky rooms. The way they used light was also a highlight: They would outline the chokey with a sharp jagged box of light which added to the menace. Light was also used to denote stairs, doorways, walkways, and entire rooms, which I found to be very clever.
The poster of the show touts the line “Best musical since the Lion King!” but I don’t think that’s entirely true. Yes, it is a good show with an interesting story, but it’s not the best show out there, nor the best show of the 2000s. If you have time to see it, give it a shot. You won’t be disappointed but you won’t be sitting on the edge of your seat either. It’s also a great introduction to musical theater for children! Feel free to give it a go if you have the chance.