If you read or saw British writer Road Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” you know the author has a dark sense of humor but appreciates true goodness and cares about the underdog, favors dramatic situations but has an innate playfully naughty streak.
Now, add in a very young, precocious girl who would fight for what’s right, an English school dominated by a tyrannical headmistress, a pair of vulgar, stupid parents and a sweet, shy teacher – all of whom are performing to the energetic music and clever lyrics of Tim Minshin, the insightful book of Dennis Kelly, fabulous, contemporary choreography of Peter Darling and creative set design by Rob Howell – and you have the award winning “Matilda The Musical.”
After first opening in Stratford-upon-Avon in 2010 and in London’s West End in 2011, then on Broadway in 2013 where it won seven Oliver Awards and five Tony Awards, “Matilda’s” touring company is now attracting Dahl and theater fans across Australia and North America. Opened March 24 in Chicago, the show runs through April 10 at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St.
The production deserves all its awards and the touring cast is excellent. The problem is that even though the lyrics are witty and important but unless you are from England, hearing them well enough to appreciate them as separate, meaningful words is a challenge due to their being quickly sung and strung together with a strong accent. The majority of folks in the Chicago audience opening night were asking friends if they understood what was being said and sung.
The video on the Broadway in Chicago site helps so is useful before going to the show. Following the musical numbers listed in the program is also helpful.
When listening to Matilda (Lily Brooks O”Briant opening night, two other girls also play Matilda) sing “Naughty” listen for the part after “if you grin and bear it” because it goes on to say then nothing will change. And she wants to change her story. She wants to be loved, not verbally abused. She also adds you “have to be a little bit naughty.” Of course, if her father weren’t so stupid she probably wouldn’t have gotten away with some of her revenge naughtiness.
It’s easier to understand the lyrics in “When I Grow Up” in the second act. Sung by the children and the teacher the music is slower and wistful.
And how often do we hear youngsters say what they will do when they grow up. Wishes here go from candy and reaching branches to climb a tree to being smart enough to answer questions and strong enough to carry all the things they have to and brave enough to fight the creatures under the bed.
Then there is “Revolting Children.” Psychotic Miss Trunchbull, the headmistress, calls the children revolting. But it’s the youngsters who in the end, revolt against her.
“Matilda The Musical” is a delightful show. I just wish I could have caught all the lyrics without having to resort to videos.
“Matilda The Musical” is at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St., Chicago, Ill., now through April 10, 2016. For tickets and other information visit Broadway In Chicago and call 800-775-2000.