As usual, Children’s Theatre Company has produced an excellent musical with Matilda. The casting is perfect and the sets were beautiful. Is it right for everyone? No. It is definitely for grade school and up. Here are 10 things for parents to consider before seeing Matilda.
- You’ll walk out of the theater 2 ½ hours after you sit down. This is probably the main reason the age recommendation is 6+. The first half got a little long even for my teen and I. You may want to plan accordingly with a restroom visit before the show starts. However, it is shorter than the latest Marvel movie and unlike Avengers: Endgame, which I know plenty of parents have shared with their young kids, there is an intermission.
- Speaking of intermissions, pre-order your snacks so you can get back early – especially if you are a Dean Holt fan. His part as Mr. Wormwood is minor but his monologue and solo as the intermission is ending makes up for that fact. It may be the best part of the whole show.
- Autumn Ness steals the show as Mrs. Wormwood. While she is even more over-the-top than the book’s Mrs. Wormwood, she is also more likeable. If your main association of Ness is with Biggest Little House in the Forest, get ready for a a really fun opposite.
- Matilda was on Broadway, so you can get the music to enjoy at home. CTC is even selling the CD in its gift shop. My experience has been that children are far more likely to remember a theater experience – and remember it fondly — if you bring the music into your regular playlists. My preschooler could barely sit through Mr. Poppers Penguins, but her memory is that she loved her special mommy date because we watch the theme song on YouTube together and sing it when she plays with her stuffed penguin. Although Matilda is for older kids, the catchy tunes are a great way to extend the fun.
- For parents who don’t like Roald Dahl because of his dark subject matter and bratty kids, be aware that the musical emphasizes both of these things. The lyrics of the song Naughty — “Sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty” — repeat throughout the show. While I respect that opinion, I think it is important to differentiate that Matilda is growing up in a dysfunctional family. Let’s face it, nasty, disrespectful adults tend to breed nasty, disrespectful children – the real wonder would be a child who turned out as charming and bright as Matilda with no encouragement. The wonderful thing about Roald Dahl books, and Matilda in particular, is that it suggests to children that they can rise above their environment. In fact, the other repeating lyric from Naughty is “Even if you’re little, you can do a lot, you Mustn’t let a little thing like, ‘little’ stop you”. Read all the lyrics in the video below. It sums up the theme of the story.
- One of my favorite things about Matilda is that it is a story with a girl hero, but it is not a girly story. Boys will enjoy it, too. Unlike many children’s books, boys are mainly supporting characters. Matilda is strong willed and smart. The girls in the school (in fact all the children) are supportive and friendly. There are no “mean girls” in this book or its musical counterpart.
- The first song in the musical has references to genitalia. However, I think they will go over the heads of kids who aren’t ready for these references and they are funny for the rest of us.
- I overheard a family talking about “some scary parts” as we walked out. I assume they are referring to Ms. Trunchbull, who is an over-the-top bad guy. In the book, Matilda explains to her friends that none of the parents believe that Ms. Trunchbull is evil because she is so extreme as to be unbelievable. This is true – for adults and bigger kids. We can enjoy the story because the evilness of Ms. Trunchbull and the selfishness of Matilda’s parents is cartoonish for us. Smaller kids may find these characters scary. I have come to respect CTC’s age recommendations, which, in this case, is “fearless 6 to 96 year olds”.
- The musical does not follow the book exactly, but it fills in some blanks. I seriously think that if Matilda hadn’t been one of Roald Dahl’s final books after a shining career, the publishers would have sent it back for rewriting. It lacks foreshadowing and continuity. Where did Matilda’s powers come from? There is no hint of them until Chapter 14 – more than halfway into the book. Likewise, the story of the relationship between Ms. Honey and Ms. Trunchbull also seems to come out of nowhere. The musical adds foreshadowing for these important plot points. The book, on the other hand, is deeper and subtler when it comes to its theme of responsibility for ones own actions. So, I recommend pairing the show and the book. However, where I would usually recommend reading the book first, I think in this case, you might enjoy both more if you see the musical first.
- The book is a quick enough read that, if you decide to read the book first and finish with a trip to CTC, you have the time to do that — but hurry. While the book is not yet in the public domain and there is a waiting list on the library copies, the whole book is read aloud on YouTube. If you would like to make a study date out of this musical, the official Roald Dahl website offers chapter by chapter lesson plans.
- If after all this, you still have not had enough Matilda, the Danny De Vito/Rhea Perlman version is worth a watch, too. It is not currently streaming, but you can get a copy from the library (although my luck with library children’s videos has been less than stellar lately).
The musical runs through June 23, 2019. Find tickets and more information at Children’s Theatre Company.
Family Fun Twin Cities received two tickets to this musical to facilitate our review.