Captivating story met with equally engaging choreography! The show Matilda is based on the immortal children’s book by Roald Dahl, where a child prodigy discovers her own telekinetic abilities as she navigates the horrors of her horrible school and neglectful parents. This production of Matilda, the show that has broken the record for most Olivier Awards won by a musical, had an eye-popping aesthetic that carried the audience back to the place where the original story was published: Great Britain in 1988. Although the British accents employed in this production (meant to amplify the sense of place also shown through set and costumes by Rob Howell) obstructed the lyrics of some of the songs, the positive artistic facets of the show erased this offense.
The choreography of this show (by Peter Darling) deserved every accolade it received, including its Tony for best choreography. Even though most of the cast members were children, the dancing was of the highest caliber throughout the show. The innovative integration of the set into the choreography in stressful numbers, like “School Song” (where the older children were swinging from jail-like monkey bars at Crunchem Hall as they sang of the horrors found in the school) and “Bruce” (where students cheered Bruce on- while dancing on desks- as he ate a whole cake,) kept me on the edge of my seat.
Furthermore, the sets themselves were shockingly swift, while still fitting the wild aesthetic of the show. Despite strange set pieces, like a loft bed on one flat and jail/monkey bars on another, every set change was still notably seamless.
Speaking of seamless, the fashion of the show shared this strange, childlike artistry. From the garish getup worn by Miss Wormwood to the eclectic hippie dress of the librarian, this musical had a wild but cohesive look that perfectly expressed the twisted, whimsical world created by Roald Dahl.
However, the world Roald Dahl intended was not always flawlessly portrayed on stage. The British accents adopted by the cast of Matilda, especially the children, were often too much for the performers to manage (combined with the singing, dancing, and acting.) Thus, sections of songs were garbled chords rather than melodies with clear articulation. Although no one should blame these kids for plundering through their accents, (since they are children, after all) the question that begs to be asked is whether or not the accents were even necessary. The movie version of Matilda did not have British accents, and this choice had no effect on the message the story contained. Since this is the American tour, would it not just be simpler to keep each actor’s natural accent- especially since this show contains a significant number of children? Unfortunately, the British accent employed in Matilda was an aesthetic choice that failed because it bogged down the child performers.
Besides the few hiccups caused by the British accents, Matilda successfully depicted the whimsy of Roald Dahl’s classic novel through exciting choreography, set, and costume design!