Whether you are five or ninety-five, I urge you to go see Matilda. Based on Roald Dahl’s fantastic children’s book, this show is a delight for the senses and is now on tour in San Jose.
Many critics have hailed Matilda the musical as the best children’s show in years and it is. Winning over 70 international awards since its London debut in 2011, Matilda deserves all the hype it has received. The show is smart, funny, touching and memorable with a cast of children and adults that will steal your heart.
Seeing the touring production always feels a little risky if you’re dying to see the full-scale Broadway production. Luckily, this show is all you want and more. The actors are top-notch and the sets scale perfectly to their theater-of-the-week.
If you love the book or the 1996 movie, the show is a wonderful adaptation that feels true to the remarkable source material. If you don’t know about the book, the play tells the story so masterfully that you will understand all of the delight and nuance Dahl intended.
The story is about 5-year-old Matilda Wormwood (played by a rotating cast of three girls) who loves reading and learning almost as much as she is misunderstood by her TV-loving parents and brother. Instead of being cowed by her obnoxious and verbally abusive parents, Matilda finds strength and solace in books and storytelling. By the time she enters school, she is already reading at a high-school level and impresses her wonderful teacher Miss Honey (Jennifer Bowles). Unfortunately, the school is ruled over by the terrifying headmistress, Miss Trunchbull (Dan Chameroy). Luckily for everyone, Matilda is there to save the day with a shrewd mind overflowing into fantastic telekinetic abilities.
“Just because you find that life’s not fair, it doesn’t mean that you just have to grin and bear it… Even if you’re little you can do a lot, you mustn’t let a little thing like “little” stop you.” – Matilda, “Naughty” Matilda the Musical
The show is beautifully crafted. From the sets to the wording in each song, no detail is forgotten. The set pieces that make up Matilda’s world often use blocks to spell out words such as “quiet” in the library, “soot” in the fireplace and “time” on the clock where the numbers would normally be.
The performances too, are top-notch. Dan Chameroy especially is a treat to see on stage as Miss Trunchbull. He embodies everything fans love to hate in a villain with ominous movements and blatant disregard to children’s safety. Still, he balances it well with the hypocrisy and silliness so key to the character’s eventual downfall.
Part of the show’s success and charm is how well it deals with big issues. Big topics such as abuse, neglect, justice and revenge are presented in such a way that young audiences can not only understand them, but also identify with the characters on stage. Children as young as five will enjoy this show, but you may want to wait a year or two, depending on how well your kid can sit through a three-hour show with only one wiggle break.
You have to look carefully to find anything to criticize about this production. The biggest flaw I found was that some of the children could be hard to understand on certain lines, especially Gabby Beredo playing Matilda’s best friend Lavender. But honestly, it’s a tiny blip in the show.
In all, the show is enchanting, certainly not one you want to miss. Matilda is even more wonderful than promised. It is without a doubt the best show I have ever seen at the San Jose Center for Performing Arts and I would go see it again in a heartbeat.
Matilda is presented by Broadway San Jose and runs March 7-12, 2017 at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts. Next week the show will move on the Las Vegas, NV, so see it while it’s still in town. Tickets range from $43-$128, group sales available for parties of ten or more.
Photos courtesy of Joan Marcus, 2016.