Matilda the Musical, now at the Kennedy Center Opera House, is for all the disrupters and agitators out there in the world no matter what age. It is an insurrection fueled by children who are once more unto the breach sounding the horn of war against the formidable power of grown-ups. It is one great imaginative boisterous rock musical bent on winning us over; which it does with its brassy nature propelled by a gaggle of very talented performers.
What could easily fallen into total chaos at any moment is a thrill ride from start to final curtain under the completely assured direction of Matthew Warchus. The cunning, wily dissident lyrics and solid rock music are by Tim Minchin. There is additional music by Christopher Nightingale.
Matilda is a joy of sight (Tony Award winner Rob Howell designed the set and costumes), rock show lights (Tony Award winner Hugh Vansone), and sound design (Olivier Award recipient Simon Baker). Olivier Award recipient Peter Darling’s energetic choreography has a bevy of children and youthful performers who thrill the audience with raucous physical movements worthy of the best of a national cheer squad competition.
Adapted by Dennis Kelly from the treasured 1988 novel by Roald Dahl entitled Matilda, the show centers on an extraordinary five year old girl named Matilda who stands up for herself and her school chums by wreaking havoc against inane adults.
In the performance I attended, Matilda was winningly played by Mabel Tyler, a gifted young actor who was utterly at ease under the spotlight. Tyler is one of three actors who rotate playing the Matilda role in this touring company production. The other two are Tori Feinstein, who played the role on Broadway, and Gabrielle Gutierrez whose bio indicated she is the first Filipino to play the role of Matilda.
In the musical, Matilda rebels against a family of nincompoops. Matilda dreams about a better home life for herself; to no longer be called “boy” by her thoughtless, asinine father (played to a fare-the-well by Quinn Mattfied) and to thought “a lousy little worm” by her silly mother (a grandly loud Cassie Silva). Neither parent think Matilda should be reading books, but rather watching the television all the time. But, ah, our Matilda has an adult friend at the library (Ora Jones) in whom she confines she is looking for the “revenge section” of books.
Matilda also fights against the rigid machine of uncompromising school conventions and unbending school discipline dished out by a principal named Miss Trunchbull who is not only a relentless bully – but once won a hammer-throwing contest and wears a uniform of a prison guard except when “she” is in a short flirty skater skirt. Bryce Ryness’ performance as Miss Trunchbull is utter sweet perfection.
As Matilda sings in “Naughty” near the top of Act I: “We’re told we have to do what we’re told, but surely/Sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty.” And we root for Matilda and her school chums, who once thought themselves either Mommy’s miracle or Daddy’s special little guy (“Miracle”), and now find “School Song” more factual.
Over the course of Matilda, other songs titles give way more than hints at what to expect as Matilda and her cohorts find their own voices and act against the mindless authority of Principal Trunchbull. Two song titles should suffice to whet your appetite; “The Smell of Rebellion” and “Revolting Children.”
With each musical number there is eye-catching, energetic dance and movements by the young performers, and even some well-placed acrobatics. Let me give kudos to the all-important day-to-day dance captains who keep the dancing and movement amazing and in unison. They are Camden Gonzales, the children’s dance captain, and Michael D. Jablonski the overall dance captain.
So, if you are an adult this is your chance to recover your seditious self that has perhaps been locked away for a very long time. See Matilda and let your inner being come out to play. See Matilda and the song “When I Grow Up” may well make you close your eyes in understanding.
“Just because you find that life’s not fair, it
doesn’t mean that you just have to grin and bear it.
If you always take it on the chin and wear it
nothing will change!”
If you have children or grandchildren, the show is recommended for ages 6 and up. But do remember, children you take to Matilda may think themselves just like the character Matilda in their own real lives. After they see Matilda the Musical, how will you respond to all their questions and perhaps their newly empowered rebellious nature? Phew, glad my daughter is now 32. But wait, she still rebels.
Matilda the Musical is a ‘Must See’ of the DC Theater season.
Running Time: 2 hours and 45 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.
Recommended for age 6 and up.
NOTE: I must write that on the night I saw the performance the sound system was less than ideal. Unfortunately, dialogue, and lyrics were sometimes missed or not heard clearly. I am sure this problem was rectified for the next performance.