Broadway's 'Matilda,' Satisfying And Subversive

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Broadway's latest import from the U.K. Matilda won a record breaking seven Olivier Awards, their version of the Tonys. The show’s winners include Tim Minchin, who wrote the lyrics and the music, and the kids who played Matilda and her long-suffering classmates, who Minchin called “the little twerps.” 

In an interview with Soundcheck host John Schaefer, The New York Times chief theater critic Ben Brantley says the show is “the most satisfying and subversive musical ever to come out of Britain.”

Brantley, on Matilda’s dark edge:  

You expect it to be just a kind of nice children’s musical. It turns out to have quite a bit of darkness in it. And I think better than any stage show I’ve ever seen, it addresses the fears that we all have in childhood. There are lines about the monster under the bed, but also particularly the anxiety that comes with going to school and feeling powerless.

On why the audience develops a Dickensian-like empathy for Matilda's character:

She’s not an orphan or an urchin, although she’d probably be happier if she were an orphan. She has horrible parents who believe in the virtues of being loud, think books are the worst thing a child could pick up, and really have no interest in her. So she develops this great interior life.

On Matilda toeing the line between being both dark and funny:

It’s a hard line to walk. The Book of Mormon, for example, is both a satire of a traditional Broadway musical and a celebration of it. Matilda manages to be both sort of solemn and fearful but also very witty. I think it would actually provide great catharsis for kids who are so scared of everything, often whether they admit it or not.