Matilda cast
Photo: Joan Marcus
 By: Sandi Durell

Broadway certainly had a nice array of kiddie shows this season – A Christmas Story, Annie – but none has the impact of Matilda – the waif protector of the young and meek.

The London hit production of the Royal Shakespeare Company, inspired by Roald Dahl, with book adapted by Dennis Kelly and richly written music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, is now at the Shubert Theatre. If you happened to have seen the 1996 film, you were probably not that impressed. This Broadway musical, however, will greatly impress!

In Matilda’s family, smart is a curse, while beauty and stupidity reign supreme.
Just ask her caricature, vulgar parents – – Mr. Wormwood, a typical cunning car salesman who’s attempting to scam a group of Russian mafia guys. He is played by Gabriel Ebert, reminiscent of Ray Bolger the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, as he brilliantly flops and slithers around in a plaid suit and green hair (naughtily concocted by Matilda), unhappy that Matilda is not only a book-worm, but is a girl! He continually calls her “boy” as she corrects him, “I’m a girl!” Well, at least the scarecrow eventually got him some brains!

 Then there’s Matilda’s mother (Lesli Margherita) who also makes fun of little Matilda because beauty, not brains, is what’s important in life telling her “I look nice, you don’t.” Her life is all about ballroom dancing with her partner Rudolpho (Phillip Spaeth, who makes all the right moves). She is the epitome of it’s all about me.

But the dumb and dumber award goes to older brother Michael (Taylor Trensch) who can barely speak but is great at watching the Telly and is the apple of Mom and Dad’s eyes.

In the performance I attended little Matilda was played by an impeccable Oona Laurence. I’m sure all the little Matildas who play the role (Sophia Gennusa, Bailey Ryon and Milly Shapiro) are of equal quality and adorability.

The more Matilda reads and, yes, she reads Dickens, Dostoyevsky and such, the more it ticks off her abusive parents. She has learned at the tender age of 5 that stories and the written word can help her survive as evidenced by her fantasy story creation “The World’s Greatest Escapologist” (played by Ben Thompson) which she imparts to the school librarian Mrs. Phelps (Karen Aldridge) who hangs on every word.

Letters, words, sentences – the dazzling set design by Rob Howell (who also designed costumes) fills the entire front of the stage and box seating areas with scrabble-like letters; the moveable on stage book shelves filled with books highlight the emphasis of the importance of words and the strength they give the high IQ intellect Matilda.

All of Matilda’s school mates are made to feel special as evidenced by opening number “Miracle” (their parents told them they’re special) until they soon realize it’s not all chalked up to what they believed when they go off to attend Cruchem Hall to be abused not only by the older kids, but by scary Miss Trunchbull (Bertie Carvel – former Olympic hammer throwing champ), the larger than life horror head mistress who runs the school and in reality loathes little children. He’s prime fodder for a Tony as he prances about looking menacing!

Matilda bonds with her new teacher Miss Honey (a delightful voiced Lauren Ward) who tries to shield her from the treacherous Trunchbull whose twisted view is to make misery a daily routine.

The multi-layered PC correct cast of kiddie wonders, sing, dance and perform acrobatics as they bedazzle and move, tirelessly, through their paces imaginatively choreographed by Peter Darling under the superb direction of Matthew Warchus. There are swings that come soaring over the audience and desks that rise up out of the floor. And there are highlight songs – – from seriously funny/clever “The Hammer,” “Bruce” and “The Smell of Rebellion” to heart-rending ballad “My House.”

The entire cast is A + + + along with Simon Baker’s sound design, Hugh Vanstone’s lighting and illusion by Paul Kieve.

Broadway has got itself a BIG winner, without any celebrity names, starring a bunch of . . . children!

“Matilda”- open run at the Shubert Theatre, 2 hrs. 40 minutes of pure pleasure!