Roald Dahl’s classic children’s book Matilda has been a favorite of both kids and adults for decades. Like many classic stories it has been transformed into a musical, this time by Tim Minchin and Dennis Kelly. The pair does a great job of bringing Roald Dahl’s grotesquely unique characters to life, but there are parts of the performance that just seem a little bit off. Overall, it is an enjoyable experience, but there are some changes that should be made to really solidify it as a classic stage production.
We have to commend Minchin and Kelly for adapting the story to the stage in a way that stays mostly true to the book. This is never an easy task, but they were up to the challenge and answered the call. The lyrics are in line with the nasty cleverness that is scattered throughout the story, and the stage direction by Matthew Warchus also adds to the charm.
The cast is a mixed bag, with some performances outshining others by a mile. Keisha Amponsa Banson plays Mrs. Phelps perfectly, and Gina Beck does an admirable portrayal of Miss Honey. Matilda’s parents, however, played by David Birch and Lara Denning, are somewhat of a disappointment. These are supposed to be nasty, neglectful parents, but they just don’t seem nasty enough for our liking. It’s not that they’re pleasant, but they could have done more to be reminiscent of Roald Dahl’s original characters.
The children are all wonderful in this, with Matilda playing pranks and developing bonds with the teacher and many of the other kids providing ample comic relief. The actors are young, but they are professionals and they really get the job done with this performance. At times you forget that you are watching kids as they often perform better than their adult counterparts.
The story moves along smoothly, and the musical numbers are a blast. They are placed perfectly, keeping the audience engaged and stopping for breaks at the most opportune moments. The choreography is excellent, and the cast really works well together when performing their numbers. Tim Minchin is a comedic genius when it comes to writing lyrics, and it shows in the musical numbers of Matilda. He stays as true to the original novel as possible while providing his own hilarious sense of wit and irony throughout the entirety of the production.
Matilda is a play that please adult and children fans of the book alike. Those who have never read it will be in for a surprise as they are drawn into the beautifully ugly world of Matilda’s Buckinghamshire hometown. The aesthetics are pleasing to the eye and set the tone for the story from the start. The play moves along nicely and manages to keep us entertained the entire time despite some lackluster performances from some of the cast members.