Normally, when one writes a review, one does so in a distant, third person kind of way. However, that’s really not possible with this review, not when, I, the author have such a profound connection with the subject. Matilda: The Musical, onstage now at Durham Performing Arts Center, under the fanciful direction of Matthew Warchus, is based on the much-loved children’s book, Matilda, by Roald Dahl, one that this reviewer read over and over again as a child. And it is, much to my relief, not a rehashing of the cute-but-non-canonical 1996 film but a (mostly) true-to-the-original fun-fest that is sure to delight viewers of all ages.
Matilda was the first “long” book I ever read. Its characters were so lively, so colorful, so relatable-but-ridiculous that I read it time and time again. And, fortunately, this version, with book by Dennis Kelly and music by Tim Minchin, captures all of them perfectly. The story, which focuses on Matilda Wormwood, a wise-beyond-her-years young girl who lives with uncaring parents and who is sent to a hellish school lorded over by the evil Miss Trunchbull (David Abeles) is every bit as vivacious onstage as it is between the pages of a dog-eared, illustrated copy.
Combining magical, offbeat imagery, crazy choreography by Peter Darling, and larger-than-life characters, Matilda: The Musical is a slightly dark, Burton-esque feat that all are sure to enjoy.
The musical is quirky and bright from the start, gently poking fun at doting parents with its opening number “Miracle,” in which parents from all over sing the virtues of their “perfect” children. This opening number serves as a stark contrast to young Matilda’s cold world, which is full of name-calling and distant adults. It also calls to mind Dahl’s original opening, which states, “It’s a funny thing about mothers and fathers. Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful.”
Fortunately, plucky little Matilda doesn’t let her world get her down. She joins a cast of lively characters who support her on a journey in which she discovers her own strength and power. They include her kindly teacher, Miss Honey, portrayed sweetly by Jennifer Blood, who, with her gentle portrayal, matches Dahl’s original description: “…She possessed that rare gift for being adored by every small child under her care.”
Of course, no show or children’s story, for that matter, would be complete without villains, and there are some great ones here. Cassie Silva and Quinn Mattfeld are perfect, respectively, in their roles as Matilda’s loud, obnoxious, and downright mean parents. And Abeles spares nothing in his raunchy, Frank-N-Furter-style rendering of the devious Miss Trunchbull.
It is the portrayal of Matilda herself, however, performed by Sarah McKinley Austin at Tuesday night’s performance, that is most impressive. This little girl is the perfect Matilda, completely understanding the big words she utters and lending an innocence and precociousness to her famed character that is absolutely spot-on and completely charming.
If you’re a long-time Matilda fan like me, this show will make you want to bust out your childhood copy. I did, and I’m reading it now (shamelessly, I might add). If you’re new to the story, however, prepare to fall in love with a show that is true to the original work in all the ways that count.
The Durham Performing Arts Center presents Roald Dahl’s MATILDA THE MUSICAL at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 20 and 21, 8 p.m. Jan. 22, 2 and 8 p.m. Jan. 23, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Jan. 24 at 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701, in the American Tobacco Historic District.
TICKETS: $40-$155. Click here for DPAC Special Offers.
DPAC Box Office: 919-680-ARTS (2787), firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events-tickets/where-to-buy.
Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115558/2019437.
GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919/281-0587, Groups@DPACnc.com, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events-tickets/group-services.
SHOW: http://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/matilda-the-musical and https://www.facebook.com/events/959350000797272/.
THE TOUR: http://us.matildathemusical.com/tour/ and http://www.ibdb.com/Production/View/500688.
TOUR CAST: http://us.matildathemusical.com/tour/cast-creative/cast/.
TOUR CREATIVE TEAM: http://us.matildathemusical.com/tour/cast-creative/creative/.
VIDEO PREVIEWS: http://us.matildathemusical.com/tour/media/video/.
AUDIO PREVIEWS: http://us.matildathemusical.com/tour/media/audio/.
DPAC NEWS RELEASE: http://www.dpacnc.com/news/detail/casting-announced-for-the-first-national-tour-of-matilda-the-musical-at-dpac-january-19-24-2016.
2015-16 SUNTRUST BROADWAY SERIES: http://www.dpacnc.com/suntrust-broadway-series-2015-16.
PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.dpacnc.com/, https://www.facebook.com/DPACNC, https://twitter.com/DPAC, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Durham_Performing_Arts_Center.
NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 23rd, and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 24th, performances.
Matilda (1988 children’s book): http://www.roalddahl.com/roald-dahl/stories/1980s/matilda (official web page) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matilda_%28novel%29 (Wikipedia).
The Novel: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Study Guide: http://www.tonyawards.com/pdf/Matilda_LessonPlans_lo.pdf (Penguin’s Classroom Classics).
Roald Dahl (British writer and screenwriter, 1916-90): https://www.roalddahl.com/ (official website), http://us.matildathemusical.com/creative/roald-dahl/ (tour bio), http://www.ibdb.com/Person/View/8343 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001094/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roald_Dahl (Wikipedia).
Matilda the Musical (2010 Stratford-upon-Avon, 2011 West End, and 2013 Broadway): http://www.matildathemusical.com/ (official website), http://www.timminchin.com/matilda/ (Tim Minchin’s web page), http://www.ibdb.com/Show/View/493193 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001094/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matilda_the_Musical (Wikipedia).
Study Guide: http://broadwayinchicago.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Matilda-Study-Guide.pdf (Broadway in Chicago).
Tim Minchin (music and lyrics): http://www.timminchin.com/ (official website), http://us.matildathemusical.com/creative/tim-minchin/ (tour bio), http://www.ibdb.com/Person/View/493197 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2423358/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Minchin (Wikipedia).
Dennis Kelly (book): http://us.matildathemusical.com/creative/dennis-kelly/ (tour bio), http://www.ibdb.com/Person/View/73661 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2393111/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dennis_Kelly (Wikipedia).
Susie Potter is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer and editor. She is a 2009 graduate of Raleigh’s Meredith College, where she majored in English. She holds graduate degrees in teaching and American literature from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. In addition to her work for Triangle Arts and Entertainment, she is an award-winning author of short fiction. Her works have appeared in The Colton Review, Raleigh Quarterly, Broken Plate Magazine, Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley, the Chaffey Review, and Existere. To read all of Susie Potter’s Triangle Arts and Entertainment articles and reviews, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/susie-q/. To read more of her writings, click http://www.susiepotter.com and http://www.myspace.com/susiepotter.