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'Matilda: The Musical' on Broadway: What did the critics think?

April 12, 2013|By Jamie Wetherbe
  • "Matilda: The Musical" opened on Broadway at the Shubert Theatre. (Joan Marcus / Associated Press / April 11, 2013)
"Matilda: The Musical" opened on Broadway at the Shubert Theatre.… (Joan Marcus / Boneau / Bryan-Brown…)

“Matilda: The Musical,” the stage incarnation of Roald Dahl’s famed storybook, made its Broadway debut Thursday at the Shubert Theatre.

The London import, minted by the Royal Shakespeare Company, follows a troubled girl genius whose gifts are lost on her idiotic parents and a tyrannical boarding school headmistress played by British actor Bertie Carvel in drag.

The musical, with a book by Dennis Kelly and a score by Australian comedian and composer Tim Minchin, features a kid-centric cast, including four girls who share the title (and telekinetic) role.

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This isn’t the first time a production has been pulled from Dahl’s pages: In 1996, the children’s novel was turned into a forgettable film of the same name starring Danny DeVito.

So how did the play compare? The first reviews from New York are in with critics agreeing that “Matilda” is the new darling of Broadway.

Ben Brantley of the New York Times said theater-goers should “rejoice” and rush to see the “most satisfying and subversive musical ever to come out of Britain.” He continued that the “exhilarating tale of empowerment” of children and words proves to be as much of an “edge-of-the-seats nail biter” as the season finale of HBO’s spy thriller “Homeland.”

USA Today's Elysa Gardner wrote that “Matilda” “is the smartest musical to arrive on Broadway in years,” crediting Kelly and Minchin’s “affecting and enchanting” production that conveyed “genuine affection” for their leading lady. Gardner also praised set and costume designer Rob Howell who staged the “fantastical and spooky aspects of Dahl's book with gorgeous whimsy.”

Peter Marks of the Washington Post gave the “Matilda” a rave, writing the "delectably clever" score, "slyly evocative" book, praising the choreography “rarely” seen from a young cast will have patrons of any age "happy" to be ticket holders. Marks added the young actors, or “tiny entertainment machines,” gave  performances beyond their years “as if each of them has spent a whole lifetime or two in show biz” and called Carvel’s Miss Trunchbull no less than a “bloody marvel.”

Time’s Richard Zoglin wrote that the show was a "real miracle" with "invention, spirit and genre-redefining verve" not seen on Broadway since “The Lion King.” He also gave high marks to Minchin’s score, writing that it seems “woven into the scenery” with "intricate lyrics" and touches of jazz and rock that are “integral to the show and like nothing else.” Zoglin concluded by questioning how the show would fare with American theater-goers perhaps less accustomed to “darker, more contemplative and delicately layered” productions.

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