There is some serious comic genius on display right now at The Kennedy Center. Thank Matilda the Musical, running through January 10, 2016, in the Opera House. Fans of Roald Dahl’s classic novel about an extraordinary girl won’t be disappointed.
The opening number, “Miracle,” is a bitingly funny send-up of birthday parties thrown by doting parents. “My mommy says I’m a miracle,” sing the little princesses and superheroes, as their parents pose with them for selfies and a cynical party entertainer dispenses balloons.
Still, these are parents who love their kids, while Matilda’s crass parents want nothing to do with her. Mrs. Wormwood is Matilda’s vain, self-centered mom who only seems interested in her ballroom dance competitions. (“Looks are more important than books,” she says). Mr. Wormwood, Matilda’s dad, is an oily used-car salesman who won’t acknowledge that she’s not a boy and makes fun of her for reading. Despite their clearly awful verbal abuse, they are both so outrageously ridiculous that all you can do is crack up whenever they appear, especially when Mr. Wormwood sings an ode to television (“The bigger the telly, the smarter the man”).
Anyone who has read the Roald Dahl novel (I somehow never did read it, although my nine-year-old daughter did and loved it) knows that Matilda won’t stand for things being unjust. “That’s not right!” she’ll say and then she’ll exact payback – whether it’s switching her parents’ hair-care products, resulting in her dad’s hair turning green, or supergluing her dad’s hat on his head.
Exasperated, her parents send her to Crunchem Hall, a school whose motto is “Children are Maggots.” The hilarity reaches its height with the appearance of feared headmistress, Miss Trunchbull. As played by actor Bryce Ryness (a six-foot-plus man), Trunchbull takes herself very seriously but is arguably the funniest character on a D.C. stage right now. (Trunchbull’s ribbon dance is not to be missed.)
Although there are a lot of laughs, this production balances it with poignant moments, particularly the anthemic song “When I Grow Up,” which turns the stage into a playground of giant swings and a long slide. Miss Honey, Matilda’s sympathetic teacher, has a heartbreakingly lovely song, “My House.” The audience cheers when Miss Honey finally gets what is owed her at the end. And there’s stage magic as well, which had my daughter marveling, “How’d they do that?”
I marveled at the remarkably self-possessed girl who played Matilda, Mabel Tyler. (Two other actresses share the role of Matilda in other performances.) Mabel perfectly embodied Matilda’s bravery, generosity, and vulnerability.
This is a production that adults and kids (I’d recommend 6 and up) can equally enjoy – though I suspect maybe the adults might be laughing the most.
WHAT TO KNOW
- Matilda the Musical runs through January 10, 2016. Performances are Tues.-Sun. at 7 p.m. Matinee performances are on Sat and Sun. at 1 p.m., and Dec. 24 and Jan. 6. No evening performances on Dec. 24 and Jan 10. Tickets start at $30.
- The performance runs about 2.5 hours, including a 15-minute intermission.
- On-site parking is available in the Kennedy Center garage for $23 ($20 if you book online ahead of time). The nearest Metro is Foggy Bottom on the Orange-Blue line, and a free shuttle takes visitors to the Center.
- The on-site KC Cafe serves meals cafeteria-style. The Roof Terrace is a sit-down restaurant with a la carte or prix fixe menus.
- Before and after the show, and during intermission, check out the stall selling Matilda merchandise, including T-shirts that read “My mummy says I’m a miracle”, “Sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty,” and – my personal favorite – “Children are maggots”.
- Photo One: “When I Grow Up” – The Company of Matilda The Musical National Tour.
- Photo Two: “Miracle” – The Company of Matilda The Musical National Tour.
- Photo Three: Mia Sinclair Jenness (Matilda Wormwood) and The Company of Matilda The Musical National Tour.
- Photos by Joan Marcus.