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Sound Advice Reviews

Matilda


And here she is, folks: the madcap, capricious Matilda. Or should I say "Here they are, because all four of the girls who play the title character in Broadway's hit share the performing honors on the cast album. (As the show mentions, life isn't fair, but at least the dividing of the plum role is.) Fasten your seatbelts.

MATILDA
2013 BROADWAY CAST

Broadway Records/ Yellow Sound Label

The feeling of a circus isn't only present on the final bonus track of Matilda's cast album sequence concerning acrobats. There's a sense of wild anything-can-happen excitement, daredevilry, and delightful defiance throughout this piece. The whole CD is full of bombastic and fantastically subversive thunderbolts of ideas and performances. Novelist Roald Dahl's sensibilities and teasing nose-thumbing is not for the faint of heart or those who insist on children being presented as innocent and as sweet as the candied yummies in the famed Chocolate Factory of another of his tomes turned into a musical (no fewer than three times by different teams). Here, the little darlings are fierce and knowing and the adults can be nefarious and selfish in various ways. Whoever subscribes to the adage that "Children should be seen and not heard" best run for the nearest emergency exit. These youngsters are relentlessly rowdy, demanding, and—as one big production number's title has it—self-described "Revolting Children" (in both senses of the world). But add "entertaining" to the list of adjectives. And fearlessly so. So are the politically incorrect adults who put the fear in them and lead by example in being LOUD as a splashy number by Matilda's never-mum Mum mentions—loudly.

Although "ear assault" may be the fault of this somewhat exhausting full-album listening experience, and a little gulp of musical Red Bull goes a long way, maybe just sip. It's worth the trip on the almost non-stop roller coaster. Nightmares can be fun when they're someone else's and this is a creative and often hilarious endeavor. The occasional respites of vulnerability vacations are striking, welcome and well placed. The cast is strong all around, with showcase numbers galore. I particularly like the bouncy ode to learning from television, "Telly," which mocks TV's excesses and vacuousness as it sings its questionable praises. Throughout the score, Tim Minchin's music and lyrics are an avalanche of ideas in snippets and snappy swaths (in a good way) which impress and only occasionally disappoint with too-much-of-a-good-thing way of repetition or the easy or "iffy" rhyme. But "spiffy" and spankingly impudent are more the order of the day.

Striking numbers include those which sing the praises of being "Loud" and, later, "Quiet" (with the Matilda du jour nicely essayed by Milly Shapiro)—they are they aptly titled and performed. And the company number "When I Grow Up" should have staying power as an anthem of wishes and has a bittersweet quality which belies the deceptive simplicity of its outward agenda.

It may take careful or repeated listen to catch all the words, what with the kids' voices and British accents that can take non-British ears some adjusting—especially when caught in the maelstrom of mega-sound thickly and intricately served up by the orchestra. But the booklet includes all the lyrics and dialogue heard on the cast album, so it's especially handy. And the numerous color photos give a sense of the visual big-big-BIGNESS of this show.

Happily, not very distracting is the divided-labor of the four young actresses sharing the titular character's cast album duties (as they did a Tony Award and the role itself). But the show-stealing performance comes from Bertie Carvell, a hoot as the hollering and sinisterly simmering Miss Trunchbull. Evil never tasted so good in this scrumptious performance taking full advantage of small and big moments. Relished ripostes are rampant and razor-sharp is his comic timing. The rhyming is never an encumbrance—his work masterfully plays as a fully realized, naturally-flowing performance.

The album begins with mood-setting music, but I miss having a real overture. While the lyrics can be dense and full of smart "nonsense," these Minchin melodies have their joys and jolly, jaunty excursions which would be terrific to hear instrumentally. And the album ends very abruptly. But this review won't: Let me conclude by saying that Matilda isn't for everyone, but it is for everyone who enjoys expecting the unexpected, being tickled pink by feathers doused in acidy vinegar rather than honey. In that case, expect to enjoy this break from the cutesy kiddie fluff which can be a grand and grounded—perhaps groundbreaking—good time. Its time has come, so come on along and listen to the non-lullaby of Broadway.


- Rob Lester


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