Well, it took me long enough. For a Broadway baby like myself, it’s rather embarrassing that I have waited two years to see “Matilda, the Musical,” which opened to raves on the Great White Way in 2013 after a successful debut in London. Alas, my partner had alre
ady seen it by the time I moved to New York, and my parents already had tickets for its national tour stop in L.A. and thus I had no one to go with. (I actually love going to the theater by myself, but just never got around to it in this case.) But thanks to Shirel, visiting from Israel and both a Broadway virgin as well as a serious Anglophile, I finally got my chance.
What I loved:
- The whimsical design, where letters and words and books are literally building blocks of life, things to hold onto and climb, concrete things that support you.
- The embrace of the story’s dark undertones. Of course, we credit this to Roald Dahl, “Matilda’s” author, but one imagines an American production might have turned up the lights a wee bit.
- The almost-radical structure: I’ve heard criticism of the show’s episodic narrative architecture, which feels like jump-cuts to unrelated scenes, unlike the logical march forward of a show like “Kinky Boots,” which grabbed the Best Musical Tony from “Matilda’s” tiny hands. But I found this structure gave the show a slightly surprising and subversive tone – like its titular character.
- The music, which captured the simple singsong quality of say, a children’s variety show, with beautiful musical theater melodies mixed in, with hints of circus and a whiff of lullaby.
- Who needs a grand finale? Both the end of Act I and the end of Act II were quiet and poignant moments – no all-hands-on-deck-soup-to-nuts-go-for-broke-ensemble-showdown. Just a little girl on a big stage. That’s bold, and brave and very poignant.
I also loved “Kinky Boots,” which is made of sparkles and joy and is a satisfying and surprisingly traditional musical telling a non-traditional story (which is why I think it works so well). Many considered its Tony win over "Matilda" an upset. Until now I couldn’t judge, and I still can’t. If I had been a voter, I would have flipped a coin. But while it was in the air, I might have been thinking of a little girl.