At this year’s Tony Awards, a show about a strange little girl with horrible parents was nominated for no fewer than twelve awards — practically every category that it was eligible for. Matilda the Musical is based on Roald Dahl’s novel, and set to music by the Australian songwriter and comedian Tim Minchin. Minchin last visited Studio 360 in 2011, and he returned to talk with Kurt Andersen about Matilda and play some songs from the show.
Minchin grew up reading Dahl, but Matilda was a later book, and Minchin read it in his teens. Later, when he was writing music for youth theater in his hometown of Perth, Australia, he told Kurt, “At some point I thought, ‘God, that’s got to be a musical.’” A decade later, he relates, the Broadway director Matthew Warchus asked him, “Have you heard of Matilda?” This is what fate would feel like, says Minchin, “if you believed in fate.”
The conceit of Matilda is that this oppressed child possesses magical powers that will allow her to change her destiny, rising above the stupidity and awfulness of the adults around her. The song Matilda sings when her telekinetic power reveals itself proves Minchin’s remarkable instincts for theater: instead of a Disney-style show-stopper, he wrote the mesmerizing “Quiet,” which he performs solo for Kurt.
Minchin ends the interview by playing Kurt’s favorite song from the show, “School Song.” It weaves in a recitation of the alphabet (performed here with Studio 360 staff and friends), using the name of each letter as a syllable in the lyrics. “I stole the idea,” Minchin says, from a friend’s cabaret show in Melbourne. Casey Bennetto had written “The ABC of Love” with the same structural device. Minchin called to ask permission from Bennetto, who said, “There’s no such thing as a new idea, Tim.”
Video: Tim Minchin performs "When I Grow Up"