Thursday, September 10, 2015

Broadway's Matilda: Shrilly, She Just Keeps Running!

We knew nothing about the musical, Matilda before we saw it.
Well, almost nothing.
We knew it had been a huge hit in England. We knew it was based on a book for "tweenagers" written by Raold Dahl, a widely-acclaimed author and the man who wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Facory.
And we knew that Broadway's Matilda has been performing in front of packed houses for quite some time -- since April, 2013 to be exact.
On top of all that, the show is at the legendary Shubert Theatre, at the top of theatre row right on Shubert Alley. This is the place where A Chorus Line ran forever.
So, our expectations were fairly high.
We wish we could tell you that those expectations were fulfilled. They weren't.
As far as we're concerned, the show didn't even come close.
The US version of Matilda cost $16 million to produce. And, you will get some dazzle from the show: A confetti shower, darting lasers, fog machines and strobe lights. On top of that the actors run up and down the aisles and appear and disappear via pneumatic lifts.
The musical's narrative centers on Matilda, a precocious 5-year-old girl with the gift of telekinesis who loves reading, overcomes obstacles caused by her family and school, and helps her teacher to reclaim her life. It sounds relatively simple (for a quasi "children's tale") but it's actually a quite complicated and largely dismal story with cheap thrills and a deus ex machina ending.
The child actors in the show (and there are many of them) work very hard but, like Matilda, they are all loud and relentless. Plus, their heavy British street accents make them hard to understand. On top of all that, the show has no subtlety. It's all raucous, screechy and invasive.
The leading villain is the school headmistress, Miss Trunchbull. She's (played by a he) a huge, obstreperous, living gargoyle. There are some darkly funny moments when she's around but they're far too few and much of her activity borders on the sadistic.
This is a largely charmless show. The songs pretty much all sound the same and we were able to detect little or no melody.
We understand that British and American humor are not the same. We get it. And we're still able to enjoy the British idea of irony or farce or whatever as evident in shows such as Something Rotten and A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, both of which we enjoyed.
And we've also seen some musicals revolving around the plight of children and/or pre-teens, such as Annie and Newsies, which we've also enjoyed very much.
But Matilda is not in that category. 
Matilda is just one huge, repetitive thwack on the die of the head as far as we're concerned.
Skip it.

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