Kids take over Broadway with supernatural acting in Matilda

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Lylia Li, Staff Writer

Remember when you were in kindergarten and it was story-time, and you and all your classmates sat criss-cross applesauce in a circle around your teacher, who read you a picture-book aloud, pausing in between each passage to show the illustrations and holding you rapt with attention the entire time?  That is essentially Matilda the Musical.

Except instead of the library, you are sitting in the velvet-lined seats of the Schubert Theater; instead of kindergarteners you are surrounded by people of all ages, enthralled as any children; and instead of looking at pictures in a book, you are watching them come to life in front of you on a $16 million Broadway budget.

Casting the wonder of childhood—a vivid, dreamy filter—over surprisingly dark themes, Matilda is an intricate work of art, with all of its faces working in perfect harmony.

It treads the line between ridiculous and rational without overstepping into stupidity.  It has moments of extreme hilarity and extreme sincerity.  Its five-year-old heroine is someone grown men and women wish they could grow up to be.

In fact, the show is carried by its prepubescent ensemble.  The majority of its cast members are around the ages eight to twelve, and none of the Broadway Matildas are older than eleven.  The kids exceed expectations.  It is hard to believe they can be so talented at such young ages, but then again, it should not be that surprising considering the musical’s central premise is the extraordinary abilities of one gifted little girl.

And indeed, the girls who play Matilda have no trouble holding their own against more seasoned actors.  Matilda and Miss Honey anchor the show, while the other characters are more caricatures of real people.  Matilda remains practical and unperturbed in the face of the ludicrous adult world and is immediately likeable from her determination, her mischievousness, and, of course, her cuteness.

But there are so many more things to love than just Matilda.  For example, Gabriel Ebert, who won a Tony for his role as Mr. Wormwood last June, is a joy to watch onstage.  With his exaggerated movements and vivid green and orange suit, his scenes are never dull and provide great comic relief.

If the show’s witty script and brilliant actors were not enough to make it a masterpiece of storytelling, the visuals themselves are.  Matilda’s set is built with grand proportions, with towering school desks, a blackboard as high as a wall, and a library that looks like a labyrinth.  They emphasize the smallness of our protagonist, highlight her proportionally huge emotional and mental strength, and add to the show’s excitement, reminding the audience how big and exciting the world seems when you are young.

But what really steals the show is its lighting and staging, which form intensely illustrative compositions onstage.  Scenes like Mr. Wormwood looming over Matilda in a mean orange hallway, the children cowering before the menacing iron gates of the school on their first day, and Miss Honey, cast in purple shadow, looking on a small Matilda lit in gold and wondering how she can help this poor little girl, are fleeting but instantly memorable.

Matilda is what musical theatre can achieve when it is at its best.  It is immersive, holds you at the edge of your seat the entire time, and tells a captivating story even for viewers who are not familiar with the book or the movie.  The emphasis on storytelling in the plot is directly proportional to how well the musical is executed.

Every element—script, actors, and staging—comes together perfectly, making it feel like a peek into Road Dahl’s mind and bringing the story to life in a way that simply can not be compared to any other medium because it is live and experienced firsthand.  For anyone who has wanted to jump into their favorite book, it does not get any better than that.