Matilda The Musical National Tour

Book by Dennis KellyMatilda-The-Musical

Music and Lyrics by Tim Minchin

Directed by Matthew Warchus

Music Direction by Chris Nightingale

Choreography by Peter Darling

At the Oriental Theatre, Chicago

Matilda suffers from muted, garbled sound and strong Cockney accents

I must be one of the few adult reviewers who points out when a show, especially a musical, has problems being understood. Since I don’t have any pre-show knowledge of Matilda either as a book by Roald Dahl or as a film, I didn’t know the story, so I was very much needed to understand the dialogue and the lyrics. I quickly became frustrated by the poor sound system that made the actors, especially the little kids, sound like squeaky chip monks; add the muffled mics and the heavy Cockney accents, and 80% of the dialogue and lyrics were unintelligible to me.¬† And since I don’t understand “little kid,” I quickly got lost as to what was happening on stage. This hurt loads so let my quote the press notes so I can get the story right:

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“The story of a very bright and rebellious little girl, with special powers. Matilda’s parents, Mr and Mrs Wormwood, have no time for her and treat her as a nuisance. She spends most of her time reading books from the library astonishingly quickly, whilst they watch the telly and Mr Wormwood sells dodgy used cars. At school things are no better as despite the care and support of her teacher, the lovely Miss Honey, Matilda has to contend with the terrifying headmistress Miss Trunchbull who rules the school with cruelty and fear. Matilda fights against the injustices at home and at school. Eventually she decides the grown-ups should be taught a lesson and in the process discovers her supernatural powers.”

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Nine year old Lily Brooks O’ Briant played Matilda and sang and danced with deft aplomb. Amazingly polished for so young! Her parents, the hyper-irritating Cassie Silva and Quinn Mattfeld, the over-the-top father with the addition of the super-villain school headmaster Miss Trunchbull, played my a man named David Abeles, round out the cast. A fully group of young kids supplemented by adults populated the school. Chicagoan Ora Jones (a Steppenwolf Theatre¬† ensemble member) played Miss Phelps, the librarian, warmly, with Jennifer Blood playing Matilda’s sweet teacher. In Roald Dahl’s writing most adults are either buffoons or villains. Add the dark stories Matilda spins, and the musical is a tad too scary for many children.

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But the production has many fine theatrical elements, including spectacular lighting (by Hugh Vanstome) and sets (by Rob Howell), as well as energetic dances by the kids and the adults using choreography by Peter Darling. The sheer energy was infectious! But Tim Minchin’s bland score only featured one memorable song: “When I Grow Up.”

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So, if you’re thinking of taking your children or grandchildren, be warned to have them read the book or see the film before so they will know the story, since the garbled accented speak will loose them. And be aware that at 2 hours and 40 minutes, the show is too long, as many kids grew restless as the show dragged on.

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I had mixed feeling about Matilda. I have problems with “little girl” speak as it sound like squeaky chip monks. So that alone hurt my appreciation of the show. I was impressed with the dynamic theatricality of the show and the amazing quality of the performances by the cast of young kids. I was particularly impressed by the performance of David Abeles as the nasty head schoolmaster Miss Trunchbull.

So be warned about the sound quality and the accents but if your kids want to see Matilda, you’re hooked. If they would ease the accents and correct the mic problems, Matilda would be easier to handle. It’s still about a half an hour too long.

Somewhat Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: March 24, 2016

For more info checkout the Matilda page at theatreinchicago.com

At the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph, Chicago, IL, call 800-775-2000, www.broadwayinchicago.com, tickets $25 – $123, running time is 2 hours, 40 minutes with intermission, through April 10, 2016