The bottom line
Matilda the Musical has it all — captivating numbers, amazing choreography, a magical set and a cast of memorable characters. This Tony Award-winning Broadway hit, now playing at the 5th Avenue Theatre through Sept. 6, features heartwarming and hilarious performances and an incredibly talented pint-sized cast. Parents will appreciate its empowering anti-bullying, pro-reading message, and the lesson that it is always noble to stand up to injustice, no matter how small you are.
If you’re a Roald Dahl fan, then you are probably familiar with the plot of his beloved book Matilda, one of the last novels Dahl wrote. It has all of the makings for a fantastic musical — a bold and brainy child with special powers who isn’t afraid to break the rules and question the authority of the misguided and bullying adults in her life. In The Fantastic Mr. Dahl, a short bio of Roald Dahl’s life that's presented at the beginning of the program, Albert Evans (the production’s Artistic and Music Associate), makes an apt observation about Dahl’s stories:
“Why are his books so loved? Children instinctively realize that Roald Dahl is firmly on their side, that he will never talk down to them, and that he will lead them through the most alarming adventures unscathed.”
Indeed, his message is timeless and was wonderfully illustrated by this award-winning adaptation.
The first number jolts the viewers straight into the world of Matilda, with a fast-paced dance and song titled Miracle. A group of children, the products of a generation of sanctimommies and daddies, dance around singing about all of the ways their parents have taught them that they are “a miracle.” This was my first clue that this musical wasn’t just going to cater to the kids. The performance of these special snowflakes was the perfect balance of snark and playfulness. See the trailer below, which gives a glimpse into the music.
While the dancing and singing was spot on, I struggled to understand some of the lyrics. My husband and I frequently have to turn on the captions when we watch the Brittish show Doctor Who, so perhaps I’m just terrible at deciphering a British accent (the musical hails from England’s Royale Shakespeare Company). But, I think a combo of fast-paced and higher-pitched singing may be part of the problem (the woman next to me made a similar comment about struggling deciphring the lyrics). I’m certain I missed a few clever lines because I couldn’t quite understand them.
Standout performers include Matilda’s delectably horrible parents, Mr. Wormwood (Quinn Mattfield) and Mrs. Wormwood (Cassi Silva), who are the perfect blend of zany, obnoxious and mean. Miss Honey (Jennifer Blood), Matilda’s timid yet kind-hearted teacher and ally, was the perfect mixture of sweet, anxious and loveable.
Matilda is played by a rotating trio of girls: Gabby Gutierrez (age 9), Mia Sinclair (age 9) and Mabel Tyler (age 10). Gutierrez, the first Filipino actress to play the role of Matilda, starred in the performance we saw, and she was awesome! I don’t use that word in hyperbole, I was truly blown away. It’s not often you see a performer as young as she is holding her own while singing alongside (and often outshining) seasoned adult performers.
My favorite character was the comically evil and androgynous Miss Trunchbull (Bryce Ryness). He played the masochistic hammer-throwing headmistress of Matilda’s school with perfect comedic timing and had the audience roaring with laughter. I felt pure schadenfreude when Trunchbull faced the consequences of her bullying ways at the end.
Perhaps the most intriguing thing about this production was Peter Darling's fantastic and innovative choreography, which never felt campy. There’s no doubt that the set-designer, Rob Howell, worked closely with Darling. My favorite dance scenes incorporated things like a swing set on the schoolyard and the school’s wrought-iron fence.
The set gave the play a Tim Burton-esque feel, incorporating a layered backdrop and interactive elements. As intricate as the set was, there were some hiccups — at one point they had to pause between set changes due to some technical difficulties – but considering all of the ways the set transformed to follow the narrative and choreography, I was more than impressed. (It is reported that a preview performance was delayed due to technical issues. Hopefully they have worked out all of the glitches.)
This performance left me feeling jubilant and wanting to see more. The takeaway for my kids was that even children can be fantastic performers. My 8-year-old has expressed his desire to “be in a show” and “learn how to sing better.” They also took Matilda’s book-loving, television-shunning characteristics to heart, asking if we could check out the book next time we are at the library. I call that a win!
Should you take your kid?
5th Avenue Theatre’s site says the show has a “PG” rating and is recommended for ages 6 and older; see the content advisory for specifics on anything disturbing. It runs two hours and 40 minutes, including the 15-minute intermission. If your child can easily sit through a film at a movie theater, he can probably sit through this. Consider the matinee for younger children — we went to an 8 p.m. showing and my 5-year-old didn’t make it through the first half without falling asleep. My 8-year-old was enthralled the entire time, even though it went past his usual bedtime.
There were a few parts where loud noises, bright lights and stage tricks were slightly startling. If your child is sensitive to any of those things, plan ahead.
Tip: Arrive early to allow for parking, a bathroom break, and reading through the program. If you have young kids, try to get an aisle seat so you can bolt to the bathroom at intermission before the line gets too long.
If you go ...
Showings run through September 6, 2015.
Tuesdays and Wednesdays: 7:30 p.m.
Thursday and Fridays: 8 p.m.
Saturdays: 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Sundays: 1:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.
See all show times here.
Where: The 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 Fifth Ave. Seattle
Tickets: $35 and up. Buy online from www.5thAvenue.org, or by phone at 206-625-1900 or 888-5TH-4TIX.
Tickets are also available as part of the 2015-2016 season subscription.
Snacks and eats: There is one 15-minute intermission with some snacks available in the lobby before the performance and at intermission (though it is hard to fit in a bathroom break and snag a snack). Your best bet is to grab food before the show.