“Matilda” – ASU Gammage

Theater Review – February 9, 2017


Broadway Across America – Arizona, ASU Gammage
Tempe, AZ

“Matilda,” a London and Broadway family musical, is based on the well-known British children’s story about the brilliant girl ignored and mistreated by her parents.  With her vivid imagination, Matilda creates her own idolized world to live in.  The show premiered at Stratford-upon-Avon in 2010 followed the next year by the still running West End production.  I saw it in London with a theater full of kids.  Most of the audience loved the show while adults without children wondered why “Matilda” was a hit even if we remembered the preciously cute story from our younger days.

The musical crossed the Atlantic and began a Broadway residency but, like many British musical hits, played a successful New York run that failed to duplicate its continuing London renown.  Now touring the country, it’s at ASU Gammage until Sunday, February 12.

Like when I saw it in London, “Matilda’s” success escapes me.  Even as a child, I don’t remember the story that affectionately.  As an adult, the story is too childlike and while slickly staged like in London, “Matilda” lacks the elaborate spectacle now expected from hit musicals.  “Matilda’s” appeal seems to be solely for younger children.  With high local ticket prices and few children present at Wednesday’s delayed press opening, I fear the show will not reach its intended audience here.

“Matilda” focuses on the precocious title character who creates a magical but imaginary world.  Reality introduces Matilda’s charmingly dedicated teacher, Miss Honey, the school’s evil head mistress, Miss Trunchbull, the girl’s dim-witted parents, and other extraneous characters creatively developed by Matilda to populate her fanciful but dramatic stories.  The score isn’t anything special and much of it sounds repetitiously monotonous.

The touring cast is fine but whether it is ASU Gammage’s problematic acoustics, the show’s portable sound system, or the characters heavy British accents, little of the show is understandable.  During the press opening intermission, there were many complaints overheard from audience who couldn’t understand any lyrics.  Matilda was played spot-on by Hannah Levinson who alternates in the role with two other girls.  Matilda’s mother was executed with hyper-flippancy by Darcy Stewart while Matt Harrington was exuberant as the girl’s green-haired father.  Dan Chameroy had a swishy good time as Miss Trunchbull and Jennifer Bowles was a sincere Miss Honey with believable admiration and love for the girl.

“Matilda” looked and sounded like the fabled London production but too much of the show wasn’t understandable and the often draggy show runs almost three hours.  To order tickets, call the Ticketmaster box office at 800-982-2787 or order tickets online at www.asugammage.com.

Grade: C