After a couple personal subject choices, I turned back to my old method of picking shows with a random number generator. I actually rolled my eyes at where it landed because this is a show whose score I don’t care for. It’s a shame, and one for which I am still a little nervous will cause me to be eviscerated because this musical was practically designed to satisfy my generation. Then again, I’ve never really listened to either cast album critically so I can’t be blamed right off the bat, right? Hopefully. So, let’s talk about Matilda the Musical.
Matilda the Musical first opened at the Courtyard Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon on December 9, 2010. The show was then slated for a London opening at the Cambridge Theatre on November 24, 2011. The music and lyrics are by Tim Minchin, while the book is by Dennis Kelly. It was an instant smash success with rave reviews across the board, a Royal Variety Performance, and seven Olivier Awards, including Best New Musical. In fact, if it weren’t for this pesky pandemic, it would still be running in the West End. Matilda was a natural choice for a Broadway transfer and opened there on April 11, 2013 at the Shubert Theatre where it ran for an impressive 1,555 performances. Like the original London production, the Broadway version was a critical darling and won 5 Tony Awards (though Best Musical went to Kinky Boots). Although there have been numerous productions around the world, the original Stratford and Broadway casts are the only two for which there are cast albums commercially available.
The basis for Matilda the Musical of course lies in the Roald Dahl children’s novel Matilda. It is no doubt also aided by the popularity of the Danny DeVito film of the same name. The story concerns a young girl who is unwanted by her parents and bullied by her headmistress at school. She channels her pain into newfound telekinetic powers that she eventually learns to control and ultimately uses for revenge. You wouldn’t know about her powers if your only exposure to Matilda was through her cast albums, but that’s a grievance I will wait a bit to air (spoiler alert).
The original Stratford cast album is up first for my listening pleasure. I’ve arrived with an open mind and even a bit of excitement, but the score is as underwhelming as I remember. Still, there are some good performances, especially Bertie Carvel as Miss Trunchbull, Paul Kaye as Mr. Wormwood, and Adrianna Bertola, Josie Griffiths, and Kerry Ingram as Matilda. Though there are three Matildas represented and each does a fantastic job, I especially want to call out Adrianna Bertola for her gorgeous performance of “Quiet.” There are some other standouts here, like “School Song” which cleverly weaves an alphabet theme into the lyrics. I also really like “Naughty,” sung on this album by Josie Griffiths. And then there’s songs like the awful “Revolting Children,” for which there was surely a better choice to fill the slot. I was not enthusiastic about venturing over to Broadway, but venture I must.
Unlike the previous album, the Broadway cast album begins with an overture. Right away, I can tell that the music here has been orchestrated to be just a bit darker than across the pond and it’s a nice effect that draws me in a bit more. There are some familiar voices as well: Bertie Carvel is once again Miss Trunchbull and Lauren Ward has also returned as Miss Honey, a performance that I enjoyed more on the OBCR than the Stratford version. I also thoroughly enjoyed Lesli Margherita in the comical role of Mrs. Wormword. Once again, there are several Matildas represented: Sophia Gennusa, Oona Laurence, Bailey Ryon, and Milly Shapiro. They are all great in the role, fake British accents and all. While the spookier orchestrions are enough to nudge this album just a bit above its Stratford counterpart, this one also gets bonus points for a whole song dedicated to the Chokey! For readers unfamiliar with Matilda, the Chokey is a torture device resembling an iron maiden which is kept in Miss Trunchbull’s office and used to punish children at the school for which she is headmistress. It more than deserves its own number, and mention of it was criminally left off the Stratford cast album altogether. One odd thing about the OBCR is the bonus tracks. Yes, the version I listened to was labeled “deluxe,” but all the bonus songs were tacked on at the end rather than inserted where they would have appeared in the show. This was a little distracting to me but I’m mostly glad they were included anyway.
Now, about Matilda’s powers. One of her defining characteristics are the telekinetic powers she develops at the end of act one. While they are prevalent in the show, you can get all the way through the Stratford cast album and never even know Matilda has powers! They aren’t mentioned once in the lyrics. The Broadway cast album makes reference to them, but it’s done in a way where they can be easily mistaken for a ghost. Where’s the girl power in that? I am not asking for much, just a “Bippity-Boppity-Boo” moment for our heroine Matilda. It would draw the whole album together nicely and give us another much needed fun number for the second act. That’s all.
Look, I’m sure the musical is lovely. But this is a blog about cast albums, as I am wont to remind you and myself, so I must judge them accordingly. I don’t love the score and I don’t love the lyrics, so what’s left? Basically, the movie is left, which I do love. Matilda the Musical may be for my generation, but it’s not for me.
Musical: Matilda the Musical
Cast Albums I Listened To: 2011 Original Stratford Cast and 2013 Original Broadway Cast
My Favorite Cast Album: 2013 Original Broadway Cast
Music and Lyrics: Tim Minchin
Opening Performance: December 9, 2010, Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
Highlights: “Naughty,” “School Song,” and “Quiet.”
Overall Impression: Lackluster in all the wrong ways, these albums still have some very good performances and a few notable songs.