Oscar E Moore

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MATILDA, the musical: What did they say? What did they sing?

April 15th, 2013 by Oscar E Moore

The much ballyhooed, highly hyped, multiple award winning Royal Shakespeare Company musical MATILDA has opened on Broadway with four young girls alternating in the part of the highly intelligent, telekinetic, precocious and somewhat naughty heroine Matilda Wormwood – an extremely hard working ten year old Milly Shapiro at the Saturday April 13 matinee that I attended, looking somewhat like Eloise.

It’s a case of The Emperor’s New Clothes – we are led to believe this is a great show lest we be considered incompetent when in reality there is not much to admire.  In fact, after Act I was finished, so was I.  In fact, I was livid.

Livid over the fact that I could not understand what was being said on stage from K101.  A combination of British accents, impossible diction and horrible sound design by Simon Baker – leaves most of the audience in the dark as to what is being uttered on stage.

MATILDA the musical is simply unintelligible.  And loud, beyond belief.  In fact, one song is titled LOUD.  One would think that being so loud one could hear what is being said and sung.  And that’s not right.  It’s a shame.  And inexcusable.

Based on the 1988 novel by Roald Dahl, Dennis Kelly has adapted the book and Tim Minchin has supplied music and lyrics for the many tunes.  Only one is memorable “When I Grow Up”.

The usually gifted director Matthew Warchus has lost his golden touch aided and abetted by Peter Darling as choreographer whose choreography borders on the robotic.

There is a mixture of styles and tone.  There are multiple story lines all fighting each other for the spotlight and to be heard.  And Act II opens with that dreaded audience inclusion.

Matilda Wormwood’s parents are horrible.  The over the top mother (Lesli Margherita) is a ballroom dancer forever rehearsing with her Latin partner Rudolpho (Phillip Spaeth) and her dad (Gabriel Ebert) a dishonest used car salesman who berates her for being born a girl – they would have preferred another son (Taylor Trench) who is a dead head and addicted to the television unlike Matilda who loves words, and books and numbers and wants to change her life and be kind to others and to do the right thing.  Everything her cartoon parents do not want to do. Or have her do.

And so she tries to escape at school where she meets the lovely and caring Miss Honey (Lauren Ward – looking very much like J.K. Rowling) and a kind librarian Mrs. Phelps (Karen Aldridge – looking very Jamaican bringing to mind Harry Belafonte’s huge hit). 

Matilda makes up stories and tells them to Mrs. Phelps – in installments.  And here is where we miss most of the dialogue – in the storytelling which makes for a long and tiresome evening despite the special effects thrown is to keep our attention from lagging.  Unfortunately all these tricks don’t work.

The whistle blowing headmistress of the school is a nasty evil woman with quivering ultra sensitive nostrils who hates children – “maggots” – and thinks nothing of verbally and physically abusing them.  She is played by a he.  Miss Trunchbull, an Olympic Medal winner for hammer throwing, is played by Bertie Carvel in a one dimensional, one note un-glam drag performance that didn’t do much for my admiration for the production as a whole.

The set design by Rob Howell is quite attractive and suitable, not so his costumes.

Matilda might have been speaking Russian.  For that matter she does.  Supertitles or a crash course in lip reading might help.

I was so disappointed.  And livid.  At the Shubert Theatre.

www.matildathemusical.com  Photos:  Joan Marcus

NOTE:  I think it is also inexcusable that the Shubert Theatre does not have a convenient restroom for handicapped people who have to cross the street to Sardi’s to relieve themselves.  How humiliating.  Matilda would never put up with that!

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