ROALD DAHL’S MATILDA THE MUSICAL

★★★★

REVOLTING CHILDREN TAKE MATILDA BACK TO HER BRITISH ROOTS

THEATRICAL REVIEW
By Chris Dos Santos
29th November 2022

An uncommon pipeline is film to musical to movie musical, and while today's case doesn't one hundred per cent fit into that category, it still becomes one of a few films to follow this historical path. The most famous examples that come to mind are 'Hairspray', 'The Producers' and 'Little Shop of Horrors', but 'Roald Dahl's Matilda the Musical' is more following something like 'The Phantom of the Opera' - yes, there are other films and media based on the material but it stands on its own as an adaptation. 'Matilda the Musical' isn't connected to the iconic 1996 Danny DeVito film, only in the sense that they are both based on the Dahl book, but the stage version from 2010 with a book from Dennis Kelly and lyrics by Tim Minichin.

Following the story we know, Matilda Wormwood (Alisha Wier, 'Don't Leave Home', 'Two by Two: Overboard' loves nothing more than learning and readying, even inventing stories of her own. But her parents Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood (Stephen Graham, 'Rocketman', and Andrea Riseborough, 'Birdman') hate her, destroying her books and wanting her to watch the Telly, and her dad also wishing she was a boy, going so far as to call her his son. Matilda has some joy in her life, like her books and telling stories to the local librarian Mrs. Phelps (Sindhu Vee, Netflix's 'Sex Education') but she becomes really excited when she gets to go to school. Here she meets Miss Honey (Lashana Lynch, 'Captain Marvel', 'No Time to Die') who she befriends as she believes in her and gives her books to read, however this school is run by the evil Miss Trunchbull (Emma Thompson, 'Cruella', the 'Harry Potter' franchise) who sees the children as maggots. Matilda rises to the top of her list to take to her torture chamber known as the "Chokey" as she is constantly standing up to Trunchbull - but will the kids or adults triumph?

'ROALD DAHL’S MATILDA THE MUSICAL' TRAILER

'Roald Dahl's Matilda the Musical' is just about as perfect an adaption as you can get, not only from the original book but the stage version. It takes the story back to its British setting as well as being a vibrant, big-budget musical. Some of the numbers in this are utterly jaw-dropping - we will break down the songs further down - but the fact the ensemble is largely young kids, it's breathtaking what they pull off.

If you're only familiar with 1996 film and not the book or the musical, this film does have decent number of changes outside, of course, the fact that they sing. The next biggest change from all three previous versions is the absence of Matilda's brother, Michael. This time around she is depicted as an only child, which actually really enhances the neglect she feels from her parents. The film beefs up the librarian character and brings over the story of The Escapologist (Carl Spencer) and The Acrobat (Lauren Alexandra) from the stage, which - mild spoilers - replaces the mystery of Miss Honey and her parents which was created for the stage. More than other versions, this movie is much more magical, with Matilda showing more power both physically and emotionally. When compared to '96 'Matilda' she is much more outspoken and stands up for herself and friends much earlier this time around. The film also has a larger focus on the school where, especially in the 1996 film, a lot of focus was on her home life.

If you're familiar with the stage show, you know how brilliant Tim Minchin's lyrics are, and they're only amplified on the big screen. Starting at the top with 'Miracle', which on stage is a three-part epic, is heavily shortened in length but still serves as a dazzling way to open the film. This sets the scene for how vibrant the film is going to be - and unapologetically a musical. The number takes place at hospital as babies are born and the joy most parents feel when they get their newborn contrasted with how unhappy Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood are when they hear they are expecting. The number ends with a giant tier stage set piece that really sold me on how much they understand the musical in film form. The film is directed by Matthew Warchus 'Pride'), who also directed the stage version - which can be a blessing and a curse, but Warchus completely understands the cinematic language and how to create masterful musical numbers.

'Roald Dahl's Matilda the Musical' is just about as perfect an adaption as you can get, not only from the original book but the stage version.

Next up we have Matilda's anthem 'Naughty', setting the stage that even though she is incredibly smart sometimes you have to be a little bad to do some good. It's the simplest number in the film with her just singing around the house, but is adorable nonetheless. One of the songs I was the most worried about in both how they would translate it to the big screen and if they would retain it was 'School Song', in which the other students introduce Matilda to the lay of the land at her new school; not only is it intact but it's another epic number. The song creatively spells out the alphabet in true Dahl whimsy, but as they sing each letter students are filling a gate with letter cubes. Of course, for film there is so much more you can to creativity spell it out, and they go for it. It was such a delightful chant number through the school halls and a perfect elevation of the stage version.

We then get our first fully cut song 'Pathetic' which is Miss Honey's number, now just simply a single line. I totally understand why this would be one of the first on the chopping block. It also means we get to the next song 'The Hammer' and the introduction of the ruthless Miss Trunchbull. Emma Thompson is absolutely devouring this role; she doesn't hold back and is having truly the best time calling all these children "Maggots" and "worthless". Her second number 'The Smell of Rebellion' is absolute genius. She is teaching the children Physical Education and just wow, it's one of the funniest musical numbers ever put to screen. We then get 'Bruce', 'When I Grow Up', 'I'm Here', 'Quiet' and 'My House', while 'This Little Girl', 'I'm So Clever' and most understandably 'Telly', a song featuring Matilda's brother, are all cut.

'Revolting Children' is just one of those musical anthems - you hear it and just want to run rampant through the hall. I feel I keep repeating myself but they absolutely knock it out of the park; the grandness of these dance numbers are astounding, and the fact the ensemble is made up of children under 12 dancing their heart out, it's astonishing. This final group number really encapsulates the film and is the perfect illustration of its success and why this version is so beloved. We end with a new song, 'Still Holding My Hand', which is a necessary addition as it serves to tie up Miss Honey and Matilda's story, showcasing their new life together and how the school changes. It's a really beautiful number and another masterful piece written by the extremely talented Tim Minchin.

A lot of audiences are going to be comparing this to the DeVito film, which isn't fair to either version given they are such different beasts. One of the real victories of the film is how standalone it is. It's not trying to capitalise on that film; it's a new adaption for a new generation of maggots. Visually the two are so different and, of course, the setting going back to the UK really adds to that.

'Roald Dahl's Matilda the Musical' is both a brilliant showcase of young talent and the magic of movie musicals. If love the book, the 1996 film or the musical, there is no reason you won't enjoy this. It has all the delight and joy of every 'Matilda' beforehand while entirely rebranding it for a new generation. Alisha Weir is an absolute star, and I can't wait for her next venture!

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