Last night, we went to see Matilda on Broadway as my birthday gift from my wonderful wife.
Now, I haven't seen a show in New York since March 2012 when we saw Book of Mormon. The price of tickets and the train has gone up astronomically, and we decided instead of seeing Broadway shows that we should become members of our local regional theater which tends to be very high quality (okay, Chess sucked a couple of years ago, but most of the shows are very good).
Matilda proved to me that, as good as regional theater can be, nothing is as good as a Broadway show.
I'd first heard the score a couple of years ago from the London cast album and was immediately taken with it. Songs like When I Grow Up, Naughty, and My House instantly latched onto my subconscience. We've wanted to see the show since then, and it certainly did not disappoint.
To begin, full props to the girl who played Matilda. Caitie did a little research and found out she's actually relatively new to the show, only having been in for a couple of weeks. The girl, who couldn't be more than nine or ten at most, has a HUGE part - in fact, probably the largest part I've ever seen for a child actor. In her show, Annie has a fairly large part, but the adults are truly the focus. She only has two songs (Tomorrow - which isn't even fully hers - and Maybe) and small parts in a couple of other songs. In Oliver, he's more a passive tool of the adults than a real lead. Matilda is a fully developed role. She has two full solo numbers (including the traditional "I Want" song in Naughty) as well as parts and choreography in several other numbers. She has large selections of dialogue to memorize and recite. She has to speak nearly fluent Russian. Ripley Sobo, our Matilda, did it all with no hint of nerves and a professionalism that aboslutely floored me.
I believe most of the cast that we saw were replacements at this point in the show's run, but that hardly mattered. After some less than wonderful experiences at shows like Phantom of the Opera and Chicago, it was so nice to NOT see the cast phoning it in. Everyone, from the leads to the small part of the doctor at the beginning of the show, gave their all to their performances. (And holy cow, the doctor - two minutes of singing but why is he not the lead somewhere?).
The staging was impressive also. Set pieces rose out of the floor in a variety of ways. Letter blocks spelled out words all around the proscenium and often in the set itself ("shush" and "quiet" in the library; "soot" in the fire place). The show has a few really cool special effects - the chalk and writing on the board were especially impressive, moreso than the blatantly unnecessary (if cool) use of lasers and strobes.
The staging of some numbers was especially impressive. "School" is a song that always frustrates me because I never pick up on the gimmick the first time it's done, but with the really clever staging it becomes clear on the second run-through. "Revolting Children" is Spring Awakening lite, and extraordinarily enjoyable as a rousing final number.
The story stretches belief a bit, but that hardly matters. The show is about the characters, and that's what really makes the show successful. The emphasis on reading, especially by showing the opposite in the form of the cartoonish Harry Wormword and his one-word-at-a-time speaking son, was welcome in a show so clearly aimed at kids. I, of course, loved the digs at education (as Miss Honey said, "No, we don't make a lot of money.").
And given that, that going to Broadway is a rare thing for us these days, it was a wonderful night at the theater. I had a fantastic time and will highly recommend it the next time I'm asked for a suggestion for a show to see.