“Matilda, Matilda, Matilda- she take me money and run Venezuela.” Growing up and listening to Harry Belafonte on the family hi fi was my first encounter with the name “Matilda.” And then came Roald Dahl’s bizarre short story, which was later made into a movie starring Danny DeVito, wife Rhea Perlman and that adorable Mara Wilson in the title role. The year was 1996 and I was in the throes of my teaching career. Literature to Film was one of the courses I taught, and always on the lookout for new material, I decided to take myself to see “Matilda” one rainy July afternoon. Little did I realize that a rainy July afternoon meant “movie day” for all the local day camps. I found a seat, soon to be surrounded by groups of children, buying candy, eating it, throwing it and talking incessantly – until the movie started. The theater went dark. The squeaky little voices quieted down and the screen lit up. Finally the feature presentation was set to begin. Warner Brothers presents…. “A Time To Kill.” The opening scene is a graphic rape scene, but the kids in the audience never allowed it to come to that. Thank God they began plaintively calling out, “THAT’s not MATILDA!” until it became a chant. But the movie continued to play. This was unacceptable. I was just about to get up and run back to alert the management, but a camp counselor beat me to it and, “Cut!” “A Time to Kill” was aborted and after being forced to endure a few more trailers, “Matilda” began a few minutes later.
Now “Matilda the Musical” has opened on Broadway to glowing reviews (at least by Ben Brantley in the NY Times) and I can’t wait to see it. Brantley is not known to be a generous theater critic, but here he writes “Rejoice, my theatergoing comrades…Rush now, barricade stormers of culture, to the Shubert Theater, and join the insurrection against tyranny, television, illiteracy, unjust punishment and impoverished imaginations, led by a 5-year-old La Passionaria with a poker face and an off-the-charts I.Q.” He further touts this show to be “the most satisfying and subversive musical ever to come out of Britain…with addictive songs by Tim Minchin.” What attracts me is, “It’s about turning the alphabet into magic, and using it to rule the world.”