The beloved Matilda returns – this time on stage at the 5th Avenue Theatre
Photo courtesy of 5th Avenue Theatre
Get ready, Seattle: the first national tour of Roald Dahl’s Matilda: the Musical has come to town. The little book-loving girl with the big imagination is here to win your hearts with her stories and bravery. From standing up to the meanest headmistress ever to belting out beautiful ballads, this pint-sized heroine gives you reason after reason to fall in love with her all over again.
The story of Matilda is charming, endearing and inspiring in its own right. The musical version is the same story, but on steroids. Even Matilda’s imagination couldn't have produced sets, staging and choreography more engaging than Rob Howell's (set design) and Peter Darling's (choreography). Full of over-the-top characters and events, the musical embraces the magic of the story. The work of Paul Kieve, the illusionist, brings the magical scenes to life with magical and special effects. My kids enjoyed coming up with their own theories as to how certain scenes like the girl flung in the air by her pig-tails were produced. I prefer to just believe it’s magic.
Since the story of Matilda is one of triumph, where standing up to injustice is ultimately rewarded, that means there must be adversity and injustices to overcome. Matilda is not only faced with the diabolical headmistress Agatha Trunchbull, but she also has two unsupportive parents who make it very clear that she isn’t wanted and doesn’t fit in. Her parents’ attitude isn't subtle: They blatantly dislike Matilda and ridicule her love of books. For children who are not familiar with the story, this might prove upsetting. We all expect the headmistress to be the "bad guy," but when parents say such cruel and hurtful things to Matilda, it's truly heart-breaking. However, it's the disconnect with Matilda's parents that makes room for one of the most touching moments of the show – when Matilda recognizes Miss Honey as a kindred spirit and gives her the biggest hug.
The over-the-top characters also bring comedy to the show. From Cassie Silva’s nasaly performance of Mrs. Wormwood, to Jaquez Andre Sims’s smarmy Rudolpho to Quinn Mattfield’s sleazy used care salesman Mr. Wormwood, they're all spot-on and make us laugh. However, my son has some serious concerns about Ms. Silva’s voice and that it may be permanently damaged from exaggerated speech as well as her rendition of Loud, a song that is well…loud.
Every story needs a bad guy, and Matilda has one of the best. Miss Trunchbull is the character that everyone loves to hate. From her absurd rules to her even more absurd punishments, she compounds the ridiculousness of her crazy physique, producing one of the best bad guys to ever walk the stage. You can feel the audience rooting against her and holding their breath at the same time as she glares out at the audience. Bryce Ryness (actually a male actor playing the role of Miss Trunchbull) with his chiseled chin, skinny legs and great comedic timing, was born for this part. Every finger wag and arched eyebrow was perfect. Even when the show experienced a second night of technical difficulties (albeit briefly this time), Ryness held the audience’s attention with just the power of his smirk and the twinkle in his eyes. The audience members in the mezzanine may not have been able to enjoy the full effect, but it was something to behold.
A musical, of course, isn't complete without its score. The musical's book, scored by Tim Minchin, is as quirky and imaginative as Matilda herself. Unfortunately, much of the cleverness of the lyrics was lost either due the sound system or the many young singers (or perhaps both). Children love familiarity, and all of these songs were written exclusively for the stage show. If you have the opportunity to download a few songs to share with your child before the show, it's well worth the time. Even if the songs are unfamiliar to the ear, the stage antics give plenty to feast on for the eyes. From giant soaring swings, to trampolines to choreographed scooters, the stage is like a giant playground. Watching the kids swing out seemingly over the audience, the young kid in the row behind me couldn’t help but comment, “that looks like fun!”; and indeed it did.
It’s a good thing that the show has so many visually stimulating parts, because it’s long, at just a hair over two and a half hours. For younger kids, the matinee or even the earlier evening shows on Tuesdays and Wednesdays or Sundays may be a better option that the 8 pm show on Thursdays through Saturdays. The seven-year-old attending the show with me admitted sheepishly that she fell asleep once. In addition to making sure the timing works, do everything you can to be sure your little one has a good view. Seats on the aisle or front row of the mezzanine can make a big difference. Since so many of the actors in Matilda are children themselves that means that they are short, and short actors are harder to see on stage, so be sure you grab a booster seat if your kiddo needs one. There are a limited number of cushions available (stacked next to each set of entrance doors into the main theater), grab one first thing when you arrive. Concessions are also available can help little ones make it through a long evening. The cash only, non-alcoholic beverage line is easily ten times faster.
Matilda the Musical is everything it promises to be. For those who love the story, the stage adaptation stays true to the beloved, stoic, little heroine and gives her a chance to shine through song. The nasty parents and scary Miss Trunchbull may give pause to those little ones encountering the story for the first time, but Matilda saves the day and will steal their hearts all at the same time. As Seattle’s kids head back to school, may they all find their own Miss Honey to tell them how special they are. Matilda runs from August 16 to September 6, Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:30 pm, Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2 pm and 8 pm and Sundays at 1:30 pm and 7 pm. 5th Ave Theatre, 1308 5th Ave, Seattle, 98101 5thavenue.org
Kelly Rogers Flynt is a freelance writer based out of Lake Forest Park and the parent of two budding theater buffs, aged eleven and fourteen.