The first time I heard the score from Matilda, the Musical I unabashedly teared up. As a girl/Princess who clearly has some challenges with this thing they call adulting, and conflicts with conforming to a world which sometimes demonstrates a complete lack of imagination and fairness, it spoke directly to me. As a girl with an affinity for layered complexity cleverly disguised as simplicity, the themes, lyrics, and colorful, weird musicality both wooed me and broke me open. I love every square inch of this show and this production. A year in the waiting from announcement to audience, I was so thrilled this show proved to be everything I had hoped for visually and that I got to see it in my city of San Jose.
While the sound balance and diction is exceptional in this production, it would behoove you to take Broadway San Jose up on their brilliant offer of grabbing a lyric sheet in the lobby either before or after the show (or look it up online). These words, the masterful combination of Roald Dahl’s strange mental concoctions and Tim Minchin’s gorgeously “off” sentiments are all at once kooky and brutally honest normalcy, wrapped in anthems and ballads alike. Perfectly tempered with absurd wit and deep poignancy this show cheerfully explores darkly morbid topics and appears to be an encyclopedia of forgotten obvious things we clearly need to state over. The struggle of having the tools, the support, esteem, time, and love needed to survive being a child not to mention an adult flow effortlessly from scene to scene. It points to how fragile we all are and yet what immense powers we all can access when we need them. It’s a wholly important message for our youth and for the generations raising and teaching them. The power of a teacher and a parent; the influence of grown-ups, the responsibility they have. It’s a beautiful vehicle for the discussion of fairness, defining absolute truths, and encouraging independent thinking. A wonderful expedition into the need for support and structure without the negativity of limits and restrictions.
Perhaps no other show in memory has reminded me how truly powerful direction can catapult a show from good to great. Lovely staging motifs operate in sync with clever design and it’s that devil in the details that really enhance the visual mischief of this show. A banner doesn’t just get removed; it gets danced of with a flourish! Repetition, mimicry and adorable panache infused into every entrance and exit connects and calls back to lessons as well as lets us in on the secrets with foreshadowing. With surprises around every corner, if you blink you’ll undoubtedly miss hints or jokes. Impossibly unique and ridiculously universal, I love how from top to bottom this musical practices what it preaches, breaking all the rules just enough. Cast a man as a woman, have “learning” be a sin, have it break the 4th wall (well), have it start the second act before the house lights are out, be silly over-the-top, but still be so relatable it hurts.
The creativity of the show is perhaps no more apparent than with the most inventive and original choreography I’ve seen in any show I can recollect. The way it was integrated into the scenery and prop design was a glorious puzzle to behold. It was funny, beautiful, emotive, rebellious and so specialized, there were moment of genuine awe that took over my jaw when dance and movement were concerned.
Many a well written show has been ruined by a cast not up to the task, (I have walked out of West Side Story more than a few times), but this cast is joyous and proficient. The kids in particular are clearly the cream of the crop and even more evident is that they’re executing every move, beat and take with committed earnestness and bliss. More talented than any production I have seen of Annie or Billy Elliot these kids (and adults) are tasked with making very difficult things look easy and exceptionally easy things appear herculean. I’d take every single one of them home for a tea party (this from a Princess who prefers the company of three-legged cats and pit bulls to most children these days).
Aside from entertaining, Matilda, the Musical succeeds in reminding me about the craft of theater; about the individual and collaborative efforts that take place to make art. It reminds me how FUN and what a pleasure creating and performing can be. These loud phosphorescent, wild caricatures and these whispery, gossamer souls we see on stage are rare and it’s a privilege to be able to bring them to life in the world that has been carefully imagined for them. It makes me proud to be part of this profession and it’s the precise show I’d recommend for kids interested in theater. THIS is the attainable, achievable, goal.
A rebellious, resounding 5 out of 5 jewels in the review tiara for a beautiful, hilarious, imaginative, inspirational experience with sincere heart, huge talent and moving messages. What a joy, what an opportunity, what a lovely way to spend a few hours. Consider this to be necessary mischief. Matilda, the Musical plays through March 12th at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts.