Matilda has arrived, based on the 1988 Roald Dahl book, and it’s British vaudeville on a grand scale.
Take the creepier parts lurking in Annie and Mary Poppins and give them the main stage, and you’ve got this show’s aesthetic, populated with herky jerky people bopping around an elaborate, absurdist set made of large Scrabble letters.
I caught Milly Shapiro as the precocious Matilda (four girls alternate in the role), who’s unappreciated by most of the vulgar adults in her life, but finds a way to shine through sheer ingenuity. Shapiro is wonderful, with a great wise-beyond-her-years face right out of an Ealing comedy, and a terrific deadpan expression to go with it.
As the nasty teacher Miss Trunchbull, Bertie Carvel has a hunchback and pretty much a hunch front too. He wears a brown burlap-looking dress over a blouse and tie, which go perfectly with his pinched face and hair. He’s a scream as he carries on with extreme pique and almost runs over the audience when cannbonballing through the aisle.
But the show’s over-the-top level can be tiring–almost running over the audience indeed–and a lot of the songs are wordy emissions that sound more work-in-progress than classic stage tunes. Still, it’s a kiddie show done with spirit, audaciousness, and a minimum of cheap sentiment. Matilda will surely go waltzing home with some Tonys.