Tonight’s installment of Ponder with Peter was supposed to be a review of If/Then, the Idina Menzel musical.  I saw it in previews and decided I would wait until it opened to review.  So I bought tickets for a show last week, arrived at the theater and Idina was out.  So IF there is no Idina Menzel, THEN, there is no review, because I am going on another night.   So – what is this week about?

It is not like me to get behind the eight ball on the world of musicals, but truth be told, I did not see Matilda until about a month ago. So while this is last year’s show and a little older than those I might review, my experience was recent and you have been asking for this here’s to you.

I never read the book and I never saw the movie. However, I was intrigued more than just a bit to see this musical mega-hit that was imported from London.  There was so much buzz around this, even after it did not win the Tony that I wanted to experience the miracle of Matilda.

Matilda is the story of a special young lady with some type of supernatural powers that work when she gets extremely agitated.  She was born to parents who do not want her but tolerate her, so she escapes by going to the library, and narrating a never ending story filled with such vivid imagination that the librarian is enamored with her.  She is enrolled in a school where the headmistress is the most despicable of people and treats both the kids and her staff poorly. Matilda’s teacher, Miss Honey, takes an interest in her and through love, caring and concern, they help each other come to terms with their respective lives and those who complicate them.

There are some good moments and it is an overall enjoyable evening but some of the character portrayals are so over the top that it prevented me from truly loving this show.  I suppose that children who are fond of the movie or the book will love it and the parents who are over-Disneyfied might enjoy a nice diversion from lions and the plains of Africa.

 What did I love?

  • Matilda is played by three different young girls and depending on when you see it will determine which one you get.  On our night, the title role was played by Paige Brady.  This child was astonishing and brilliant.  She was so wonderful that I jumped to my feet when she came out for her bows.  It is an amazing feat for an adult to carry the burden of a show but when a child can pull it off, it takes something very special.
  • The Other Kids – So much young talent- parents beware – your kids will want a career in show business as these youngsters make it look so easy.  Each of the kids in Matilda’s class is special and each one brings life to his/her character, especially Mitchell Sink who played Bruce and Grace Capeless who played Lavender.
  • Miss Honey – Jill Paice plays the sympathetic, unconfident school teacher with such sensitivity and warmth, that you wish she was your teacher.  She has a gorgeous voice and you cannot help but love and root for her – although New Yorkers might just want to slap her and say, “Snap out of it!.”

 What did I not like?

  • The rest of the characters – Matilda’s parents, Miss Trunchbull, the brother – all done so over the top that they were not believable – to me – the adult.  I suppose that they kept true to the book and if that is the case, then it works for its target audience.  However, I would have preferred to see more down to earth characters – but then it might have painted too much realism and not enough fantasy.

I heard from friend that the play was “dark” and could be scary for kids.  Unless I have lost all sense of understanding the psyche of children, I did not believe that was true.   Matilda’s positive brilliance, the enthusiasm of the children and the transformation and depth of caring from Miss Honey brighten whatever dark spots there are.  The sadness of Matilda not being wanted by her parents is overshadowed by her desire to be loved – and truth be told –isn’t that what we all want?

SO it did not win the Tony – but take the kids and show them how bad it really could be!!!