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Review Round-up: Matilda storms Broadway

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The Royal Shakespeare Company's multi award-winning production Matilda the Musical has transferred to Broadway, where it opened to critics at the Shubert Theatre last week (11 April 2013).

The musical, which is adapted from Roald Dahl's 1988 novel, has a book by the playwright Dennis Kelly, with music and lyrics by comedian Tim Minchin, direction by Matthew Warchus and choreography by Peter Darling.

Brian Scott Lipton

How do you solve a problem like Matilda?... As can now be seen at Broadway's Shubert Theatre, Tony Award-winning director Matthew Warchus' rather ingenious solution is to attack this slight tale - faithfully adapted by Dennis Kelly - with relentless theatricality... you never doubt that Matilda will triumph over every situation and every enemy, even cruel headmistress Agatha Trunchbull (Bertie Carvel)... Carvel so fully embraces Agatha's meanness - not just to the kids, but to anyone in her path - that you anxiously await her comeuppance and have no second thoughts about rooting for it to occur... In the end, Matilda may not prove to be every adult's (or young boy's) cup of tea, but there are more than enough young girls - and mothers - to keep this musical on Broadway for years to come.

Ben Brantley
New York Times

Rejoice, my theatergoing comrades. The children's revolution has arrived on these shores, and it is even more glorious than we were promised... Matilda the Musical, the London import that opened on Thursday night, is the most satisfying and subversive musical ever to come out of Britain, where it was nurtured into life by the Royal Shakespeare Company... Brilliantly designed by Rob Howell and lighted by Hugh Vanstone, with choreography to match by Peter Darling (Billy Elliot), Matilda captures the particular dread that runs like an icy rivulet through even the happiest childhoods... Mr Minchin's score is infused throughout with a Gothic strain, which sometimes assumes the form of 'Dark Shadows' organ chords... But he is never merely clever, a restraint that speaks to this musical's point that intellect doesn't have to trump emotion.

Mark Kennedy
Associated Press

The musical arrives in New York with plenty of hype and awards, and it mostly delivers a thrilling blast of nasty fun, even if it's a bit swollen and in need of some fine-tuning. It also has come with perhaps its most grotesque masterstroke: Bertie Carvel as the fearsome cross-dressing school headmistress Miss Trunchbull... Music and lyrics by Tim Minchin are probably at their best with the rousing and sly "Miracle," ''Telly," ''When I Grow Up" and "The Smell of Rebellion." He is in masterful touch with the frustration and comfortableness of being a kid, as well as a funny critic of any parents who believe their little princesses and princes are really royalty... When everything is working, this is first-rate theater.

Chris Jones
Chicago Tribune

...far and away the best new musical of the Broadway season, indeed one of the best family-oriented shows of any season... Remarkably, Rob Howell's design palette both feels fresh and contemporary (and, for the record, cognizant of Hogwarts) and yet still makes you feel that the illustrations from the 1988 novel, including the ones drawn only in your head, have simply spring to three-dimensional life... Matilda, which features a faithfully wrought and happily insouciant book by Dennis Kelly and that score, that remarkably rich, occasionally anthemic score by Minchin, has arrived on Broadway with a formidable West End pedigree. Its force and panache does not come as a surprise.

David Benedict

No one saw it coming. A debuting musical theater team adapting a Roald Dahl children's story about an unhappy girl whose life is saved by the magic of books?... Yet Matilda turns out to be an explosion of joy, the most exhilarating and flat-out best musical since Billy Elliot... Dahl's popularity rests not on the polish of his prose but on aggressively daredevil high spirits and the momentum of his plotting. Playwright Dennis Kelly's terrific book underlines all that but considerably strengthens the story... The gym sequence climaxing with Miss Trunchbull hurling herself into flight is triumphantly funny... What lifts the show is its overwhelming emotional kick. In a journey from sadness to joy it would have been easy to overstate the case, but Warchus et al. achieve power through restraint... Matilda is so riotously enjoyable that if the figures can be made to work, its future could be limitless.


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