There are very few things that I truly “fangirl” over – I enjoy lots of things and get excited by new things, but there are a few people that I closely follow because I love them so much. Tim Minchin is one of those people; from when I first saw him in concert supporting Duke Special in Belfast (I think it was in 2005-ish?), I’ve just loved his way of looking at things and all the things he’s done. So obviously, when I heard he was going to be writing Matilda The Musical I was overjoyed, who else could do justice to Roald Dahl’s mix of intelligence and absurdity, while still making the music fun, catchy, and enlightened?
I got the piano-vocal score when it came out, as well as the West End recording, and sure enough I was blown away by some of the lyrics and had the songs permanently stuck in my head. I saw the Matildas win their joint Olivier award, along with the show getting nominated in every category for which it was eligible in 2012. Soon enough, everyone was talking about Matilda and I started hearing covers of its songs all over the place – but I still hadn’t seen it.
That was finally fixed last week, when I had the opportunity to see it on Broadway, where it opened in early April. The show has retained some of the London cast and crew, but uses some new American members as well, to keep some consistency and also set it up for a long run in the USA. The reviews have already been fantastic, the Shubert Theatre was absolutely packed with grown adults on the night I went, as opposed to the children it was written for (hardly surprising, given the ticket prices); a couple of school groups made up the only children I saw in the audience.
It was phenomenal. I hate writing that, because I know it isn’t descriptive enough, but it truly was absolutely fantastic. It was by far the best performance I’ve ever seen on any medium. Every aspect was one hundred percent perfect: the stage design was enchanting and innovative, with unexpected aspects and amazing versatility for something that looked relatively basic when I walked in; the lighting and sound were stunning with every single part running flawlessly even when there seemed to be twenty things happening at once; the costumes, makeup and hair were gobsmacking, some of the actors were unrecognisable when I looked them up after the show (especially Bertie Carvel and Miss Trunchbull); the songs were beautiful and clever, with Minchin’s trademark wordplays and clever tricks; and most of all, the acting, singing and dancing was superb, from every single member of the cast – there was not a weak link on that stage. I genuinely cannot find a fault in the show, and for that reason, I feel that “phenomenal” is the perfect word for it.
Tim Minchin and Dennis Kelly put their emphasis on the story of a young girl who is standing up for herself and what she believes, surrounded by people who thing that reading, being clever and telling stories is unnatural behaviour. An inspiring story for children who have been bullied or discouraged from doing what they love, it also shows that sometimes the adults are more childish than the children. Starting with the heartthrob doctor declaring Matilda the most beautiful child he’s ever seen, we see everything from Miss Trunchbull’s mad fantasies to Mr Wormwood’s ode to the television, with heartstring-plucking songs such as Quiet and My House and a good touch of rock and roll in there.
This musical has the instant-classic formula that Andrew Lloyd Webber nailed time after time, with the enchanting and humorous story that Roald Dahl has mastered, executed with Tim Minchin and Dennis Kelly’s brains and wits. I can’t recommend it enough, but be warned – after you see it, little orphan Annie will seem like an uninteresting, witless little child in comparison to the adorable-yet-devious Matilda.