Review: Matilda (Mirvish)

image_16-6MatiltaTour0359rKids triumph over horrible adults in Mirvish’s production of Matilda the musical in Toronto

There’s no one for children triumphing over horrible adults like author Roald Dahl, whose tales thrilled me as a child and please me still. Having skipped the Matilda movie (as I tend to do if I liked a book, because Hollywood ruins everything) I arrived to the musical at the Ed Mirvish Theatre with some trepidation but also some optimism. My optimism was rewarded – Matilda is quite delightful.

Matilda is the story of a poorly-treated smart child in a home of dunces who mistreat her and how she copes with this unpleasant state of affairs (a popular trope, but a satisfying one). Like other things that might not seem to lend themselves to a musical (ahem, Fun Home) it is somehow all the more pleasing to me when they come out well, as Matilda surely has. It’s a high-energy romp that skewers the Bad and celebrates the Good, which might be a cliche, but who cares? It’s also very satisfying.

In particular, I loved this cast. Hannah Levinson (who played the title role the night I saw it) makes a marvelous Matilda, with a combination of confidence and sweetness that make the character easy to empathize with and root for. Dan Chameroy, much loved in Toronto theatre, gives a terrifying turn as Miss Trunchbull that made me wonder why he’s not in the role on Broadway. Darcy Stewart also deserves special mention in her role as the odious Mrs. Wormwood, a character she imbues with a selfishness as rigid as her hairstyle. Though special mention is well deserved for these few, the cast is quite strong overall.

There were a few sour notes for me, most particularly the role of Mrs. Phelps, the librarian. Keisha T. Fraser does a fine job with it, but I keep hoping we are all done with the trope of the Magical Negro in theatre and film, and then I am reminded that, no, apparently not.

Dennis Kelley and Tim Minchin (book and music/lyrics, respectively) are a bit of an offbeat team, better known for smaller works and satire than for Andrew Lloyd Webber-scope spectacles, and the result is a pleasing freshness. Some of the songs are a little more rock-and-roll than the traditional Broadway situations, which the production team at the Ed Mirvish Theatre hasn’t quite compensated for in the sound mixing yet, but I imagine the muddiness will get sorted out soon.

Though the theatre warns that Matilda is not a “children’s musical” – and it isn’t, it’s 2.5 hours long and full of creatively unpleasant things – it was packed with delighted children in the 8 and older range on opening night. Don’t be discouraged from bringing older kids, if they can sit through a proper full show. But don’t feel like you need to have children to go and enjoy it. Matilda is full of the joy of triumphing over adversity, in large ways and small. Even if you don’t go home humming I predict you’ll go home smiling.

Details

  • Matilda is playing at the Ed Mirvish Theatre (244 Victoria Street) until October 16th.
  • Performances are Tuesday-Saturday at 7:30PM with matinees on Wednesday, Saturday & Sunday at 1:30PM.
  • Ticket prices range from $38 to $175
  • Tickets are available online, by phone at 416-872-1212/1-800-461-3333, and at the box office

photo of the cast by Joan Marcus