Review: Matilda, the Musical

There's always a lot going on in Matilda.
Supplied

There's always a lot going on in Matilda.

Review: Could this be the best stage musical to ever come to Auckland?

Let me qualify. I've seen a lot of touring musical shows play the city's imposing old Civic Theatre in the past five years. It's not a slight upon any of them to say that Matilda: The Musical is the best I've seen, a level above, perhaps than any import to come to Auckland in that time. I've certainly never seen an audience give a standing ovation as readily as at Thursday night's opening.

​Roald Dahl's fairly dark novel about a child genius' struggle to rise above her stupid parents and evil headmistress has been given a much deeper layer of black comedy by writer Dennis Kelly, lyricist Tim Minchin and director Matthew Warchus. 

Magical: Matilda.
LUKE FOLEY-MARTIN

Magical: Matilda.

The result may not quite be suited to the youngest of viewers, but not because it relies on that tiresome old trick of making arch over-the-head comments to the parents, but simply because the writing is so busy, so subtle, there's a lot to be appreciated by the more mature audience.

The opening number demonstrates what's to come - an intricate, complex and comic number which archly considers the statistical improbability of so many children being one-in-a-million miracles. Minchin's music and lyrics maintain that same standard throughout - sophisticated, complicated and superbly clever.

Read more:
​* How a little genius makes this show special
* How I became Miss Trunchbull
Composer Tim Minchin on Matilda, music and meeting Paul McCartney

James Millar, right, plays "monster" principal Agatha Trunchbull in Matilda the Musical.
Supplied

James Millar, right, plays "monster" principal Agatha Trunchbull in Matilda the Musical.

They've been touring this show around the Australian capitals for two years now, and it shows - in a good way. Every routine is delivered faultlessly and the key performers have clearly grown into their characters: James Millar, for example, has won awards for his portrayal of headmistress Miss Trunchbull, who becomes more than just Dahl's ogre with an insight into how her lost sporting dreams forged her character. Izella Connelly, one of four girls cast to play the lead in rotation, had a calm confidence, and once you overcame her slightly strange diction, carried her role convincingly through a lot of time on stage to the finale.

But perhaps the show stealer is Daniel Frederiksen as Matilda's car-dealing crook of a father, Mr Wormwood. As the audience file back in at halftime, he delivers a monologue about the evils of book reading and concludes it by hurling a shelf full of books into the bin ("Charles Dickens? Who the Dickens is he?"). That sort of generous little extra seems typical: at every turn, there's an extra effort to make each scene memorable. There's lasers, strobes, sounds effects, some acrobatics and a general energy that carries the audience through the two hours of stage time, with most of the book's plot included and some new twists for comic effect and plot depth.

It's always fun in reviews to pick holes. I couldn't find any here. I can't recommend it enough.

Matilda is on now at the Civic, Auckland to October 22.

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