It can be an insurmountable challenge to stage the theatrical version of a story after Hollywood has put out the movie – too many special effects are impossible to replicate live – but “Matilda” is a magical exception.
Although a daunting two and a half hours, “Matilda the Musical,” now showing at the Providence Performing Arts Center, is an energetic and fast-paced look at the life of a brilliant child bullied and ignored by her self-absorbed, intellectually challenged parents and terrorized by a demonic headmistress at school. It is wildly funny if somewhat troublesome but, like all fairy tales, it is wrapped up nicely in a happy bow by the end.
The movie version of Roald Dahl’s children’s book debuted in 1996 and featured comedic actors Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman. The stage production is almost 20 years younger but has easily made twice the impact, winning a record-breaking seven Olivier Awards in London and four Tony Awards, and now touring on four continents.
The production keeps very true to the movie, although there are liberties taken with the storyline for live dramatic effect. Matilda’s parents bemoan her intelligence and love of reading, a habit that astounds her first teacher, Miss Honey. While the teacher tries to get Matilda in advanced classes, the child continues to spin her fantastical stories to ease the pain of reality. In the process, she uncovers a painful part of Miss Honey’s life and steps in to help.
Directed by Matthew Warehus, “Matilda the Musical” is bright and flashy, almost like the pages of a Dr. Seuss book at times. Matilda’s parents, for example, are wonderfully exaggerated characters with wacky costumes and personalities that veritably leap from the stage.
There are fantastical moments that invite the audience deeper into the plot, such as when Matilda weaves a story for the librarian and the stacks of books part for the action to unfold. When…