Review: Matilda The Musical

MATILDA THE MUSICAL by Tim Minchin and Dennis Kelly (Mirvish/Royal Shakespeare Company/The Dodger). At the Ed Mirvish Theatre (244 Victoria)..


MATILDA THE MUSICAL by Tim Minchin and Dennis Kelly (Mirvish/Royal Shakespeare Company/The Dodger). At the Ed Mirvish Theatre (244 Victoria). Runs to October 16. $38-$139. 416-872-1212. See listing. Rating: NN

Matilda The Musical should work. Its based on the darkly funny novel by Roald Dahl about a feisty young girl who refuses to succumb to haters the music and lyrics are by Tim Minchin, whose witty novelty songs have endeared him to thousands of cult fans and it boasts a strong cast of Canadian performers, including three talented young girls playing the title character.

But, alas, there are no sure things in the theatre. And while on paper this should be a no-brainer, the production itself will leave you cold not exactly the reaction you want for a show aimed at sophisticated adults and bright kids.

Perhaps the Brits like their musicals with a bit more tartness than North Americans. But Id rather watch Annie, another musical about a spunky underdog, than this dark confection any day.

Matilda (Hannah Levinson at the performance I saw) is a precocious five-year-old who prefers reading to TV, unlike her mother, the vain, ballroom-obsessed Mrs. Wormwood (Darcy Stewart), and father, the clown-like, unethical car salesman Mr. Wormwood (Brandon McGibbon).

When Matildas sent off to school, she meets monstrous headmistress, Miss Trunchbull (Dan Chameroy), and the nice but personality-less teacher Miss Honey (Paula Brancati). But she seems to spend most of her time in the library telling stories to Mrs. Phelps (Keisha T. Fraser).

Theres simultaneously too much story and not enough. Dennis Kellys book clutters the show with lots of incidents and stories-within-stories (those library tales feel endless). But we never learn much about the central character, who has a special power that (bad writing, or what?) is introduced in the second act without any hint of it in the first.

And while there are a number of cute set pieces involving Matildas raucous schoolmates, and the kids get to belt the musicals most memorable number, the cheerfully buoyant When I Grow Up, none of them has personality. Thats not the fault of the performers, who are all confident and clear. Its the undeveloped book and lyrics.

Director Matthew Warchuss production is gorgeous, particularly Rob Howells sets, which make fun use of books and letters of the alphabet (something that pays off in act two). But after last seasons shoe factory dance number in Kinky Boots, a high-flying sequence in a gymnasium isnt as impressive.

The performers are solid, especially Chameroy, who delivers a more sinister take on his Ross Petty panto drag acts. And Levinson, exuding a maturity way beyond her years, delivers a clipped British accent thats way more convincing than Brancatis.

But theyre lost amidst the same-sameness of Minchins twee and quirkily syncopated music.

glenns@nowtoronto.com | @glennsumi

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