Every time we see a production at Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis, we walk away smiling and wowed. Our experience seeing Matilda was no different. And with an all-star cast (featuring our favorites – Dean Holt, Reed Sigmund, and Autumn Ness), music, dancing and humor, and a solid story that pleases both kids and adults alike, we knew Matilda would be a hit. And it is.
Matilda is based on the 1988 book of the same name by Roald Dahl, which was turned into a 1996 movie (starring Mara Wilson and Danny DeVito) as well as a broadway musical. We have never read the book, but many who have love it and say the stage version follows the book very well. And I think what makes this story a winner is that it has it all – kids getting back at bad adults, magical powers (well, some), and a ton of energy.
Matilda Wormwood is a smart and imaginative 5-year-old girl. Her horrible, selfish parents hate her. Her mother is preoccupied with her dancing career. Her father is a dishonest businessperson who keeps calling Matilda a boy. Her TV-addicted brother is of no help to her (or anyone). So Matilda plays practical jokes on them, like replacing her father’s hair tonic with her mother’s hair dye.
Then Matilda attends school with a headmistress, Miss Trunchbull, who is a bullying, insulting, hateful beast of a woman. All the kids fear Miss Trunchbull, who disciplines like a tyrant, throwing locking kids in a cupboard with nails and broken glass. In one scene, she forces Bruce, a, overweight schoolboy, to eat an entire chocolate cake in front of his classmates because he stole one piece. In other scenes, she verbally tears the kids apart, calling them names and setting them up for failure just so she can discipline them some more.
With all of these horrible circumstances in her life, Matilda should be a wreck. But instead, she focuses on the one thing she can control – her mind. She devours books far above her level, which she lists to her astonished teacher, Miss Honey. They include:
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
…and many more
Unlike Miss Trunchbull, Miss Honey is kind and supportive of Matilda’s gifts. But she, too, is oppressed by Miss Trunchbull. So when Matilda discovers she has some telekinetic powers, she leads the other kids in a rebellion against Trunchbull’s wrath.
My kids and I enjoyed Matilda from beginning to end. And it’s a long one at 2-1/2 hours, with a 10-minute intermission. We knew that going in, so we ate dinner beforehand (we saw a 6:30pm show on a Sunday night). Nonetheless, we did get some snacks during the intermission (they’re not cheap – but note that you can place your order in advance for convenience). Be sure to get restroom stops in before the show starts, too, because you won’t want to miss a scene. The whole show is nonstop activity and energy, which I think was intentional to keep all ages engaged.
However, I am not sure that this production is ideal for younger kids, due to both the length and some edgy content. For example, there’s a reference to genitals in an early scene when Matilda is born. In addition, Miss Trunchbull’s nastiness to the kids can be a bit scary and unsettling sometimes – even more so for little ones.
Despite all of this, the whole show is very entertaining and humorous. There were comical scenes, like when Mrs. Wormwood and her dance partner Rudolpho are practicing for the big ballroom dance competition, and even when interrupted, Rudolpho is so inspired he can’t stop himself from dancing all over the stage.
But there were many serious scenes as well, like when Matilda is singing solo on stage about being ignored and silenced. It was just breathtaking.
The role of Matilda is actually played by three different girls, Lillian Hochman, Audrey Mojica, and Sofia Salmela, and when we attended, Matilda was played by Lillian Hochman, who absolutely owned the stage, and got a standing ovation all for herself at the end. However, I’ve read great reviews of all three of the girls who play Matilda.
I think this is more of a comment about the story than about this production, but the telekinetic part wasn’t as big and satisfying as I had hoped it would be. The effects were fabulous (and a little freaky) but the magical stunts were a smaller part of the story than I realized.
Should you see Matilda? I think yes. Be aware that it’s long but fast-moving, edgy but funny, and fierce but entertaining. It helps to know the story beforehand, ideally from reading the book, but for our family it was still understandable and fun. But note that it’s ideal for upper elementary and above.
Tip: If you go, I recommend getting seats in the middle, no matter whether you’re on the main floor or balcony. We were on the side of the main floor (which we had chosen as we like being on the aisle), but there were some scenes with effects that were hard to see. We could have seen everything better from the balcony. And to be honest, my son was restless and we went to the quiet room for the last half, which worked well because the view from there was actually better than from our seats.
Matilda is playing now through June 23, 2019.
For more information, visit the Children’s Theatre Company website.
(Disclosure: We were provided with 2 complimentary tickets to facilitate this review. All opinions are 100% mine.)