With its magic and wit, beloved children’s book “Matilda” by Roald Dahl should have translated spectacularly to the big-stage spectacle of Broadway. While several of the stunts are superb, a predictable plot keeps the show from being enjoyable at an adult level.
Despite its 12 Tony Award nominations, including a nod for Best Musical, there’s a big puzzle-piece missing from “Matilda.” Primarily, the lines seem a little lackluster, and the comedy fails to provoke many laugh-out-loud moments. Even a large man (Bertie Carvel) cross-dressing as the sadistic, kid-hating Miss Trunchbull is a bit of a one-note joke.
But more to the point, it’s the simplicity of the story: The good guys are good, and the bad guys are bad, and there’s never any doubt of who will wind up winning the day. The only reason to keep your eyes open is for the fun choreography (Peter Darling), largely accomplished by a cast of child actors, the likes of which are hard enough to herd in minor roles, much less giving them nearly three hours’ worth of showtime to shoulder. Four young girls share the title role, but there isn’t one in the world that could possibly endear us to this Matilda Wormwood. She’s a cute little genius with superpowers, to whom nothing unbearably awful happens, and it’s hard to envision this heroine as an underdog. In moments of fitful boredom, we began rooting for Trunchbull.
In summary, “Matilda” is probably most appropriate for kids or those who aren’t already familiar with the tale. We’d be willing to give the soundtrack (Tim Minchin) a shot on its own, however, thanks to the libretto’s quick lyrics that never condescend to the listener.
The Tony nominations it received:
‘Matilda the Musical’
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