Roald Dahl’s ‘Matilda the Musical’Feature Story, Section 4A, Entertainment News Thursday, January 19th, 2017
TIME Magazine’s No. 1 Show of the Year is coming to San Diego’s Civic Theatre
There have been many children’s books that have been made into movies and Broadway musicals. Most notably, J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and Charles Dickens’ Oliver.
Joining the ranks of these brilliantly written books and successful screen and stage versions of those books is Roald Dahl’s Matilda.
Matilda was written in 1988 and was later made into a film of the same name directed by Danny DeVito (Taxi, Throw Momma From The Train) and starred DeVito and the precocious Mara Wilson (Mrs. Doubtfire, Miracle on 34th Street). The film was met with decent reviews but was not a box office success.
In 2010 the novel was adapted and made into a musical by Dennis Kelly, with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin. The musical’s plot centers on Matilda, a precocious 5-year-old girl who fights, against the odds, to break free of the horrible life she is saddled with. Her parents ignore her and she is called a boy throughout most of the show by her father, who also criticizes her for reading instead of watching television. Reading is the only escape little Matilda has. Her only saving grace, aside from her books is a sweet caring teacher named Miss Honey who sees Matilda’s potential and does all she can to protect her and give her hope of a better day.
As if her family life wasn’t challenging enough, she also has to dodge Miss Agatha Trunchbull, the headmistress at her school. A woman who is feared by students and her staff due to her crazed and wild acts of discipline. She also denies having ever been a child herself, which could explain her intense hatred of children.
Matilda the Musical had a 12 week trial run at Stratford-upon-Avon from November 2010 to January 2011 by the Royal Shakespeare Company and was then moved to London’s West End Nov. 24, 2011 and premiered on Broadway at the Shubert Theatre April 11, 2013.
Although the show recently ended its run in New York, it is still running in London’s West End and is now touring in Australia and in the U.S.
The show has been awarded many times over, winning London’s coveted Olivier Award, (seven including Best New Musical) and five Tony Awards including Best Book of a Musical.
The National Tour, on the road since 2015, is set to come to San Diego’s Civic Theatre from Jan. 31-Feb. 5.
The cast is primarily made up of children, three of which take on the daunting task of playing the title role of Matilda. Jenna Weir, Jaime MacLean and Hannah Levinson will delight San Diego audiences while they are in town with the show.
Broadway veteran Jennifer Bowles, who is no stranger to the show or national tours, will play the role of Miss Honey. It’s a role the actress thoroughly enjoys inhabiting each night on stage.
“I love Miss Honey,” Bowles said. “She is gentle and kind and real. She’s a survivor, and is much stronger than she seems. I find her connection to Matilda incredibly touching. She treats children with respect and doesn’t talk down to them, which I love. It’s how my mom treated me growing up.”
Miss Honey rallies to give Matilda a chance at a normal life and fights not only her parents to make this happen but also the evil headmistress Miss Trunchbull. Bowles admits that Miss Honey probably won’t find good in the headmistress, but she’ll do all she can to protect Matilda.
“I don’t necessarily think Miss Honey believes she can change Trunchbull,” Bowles said. “I think when Miss Honey comes into her office at the beginning of the show, she’s fueled by her amazement of Matilda. She’s just witnessed this child’s brilliance firsthand and knows she has to do something about it. She thinks Matilda should be moved to a higher level in school, and to make that happen she must go to Miss Trunchbull. She’s inspired by Matilda, and that makes her willing to (try to) put her fear of the headmistress aside. I think Miss Honey’s belief in Matilda is the main reason why she can finally manage to overcome her own timid ways.”
Bowles sees many similarities in herself as she takes on the role of the nurturing Miss Honey.
“I definitely can relate to Miss Honey’s life in certain ways,” Bowles admitted. “I come from a family of teachers, so I understand the importance of that teacher/student relationship. I also identify with Miss Honey’s sensitivity and tendency to be hard on herself. I am constantly striving to be stronger, despite any fear or insecurity that might be standing in my way. I like how hard she tries to get past her own personal roadblocks to help others. She puts other people before herself, and that’s incredibly admirable.”
One thing is for sure, the role of Miss Honey is not new for the Broadway veteran, neither is touring as this marks the actresses fourth time on the road with a show.
“This is my fourth tour, but it’s a very special experience for me,” Bowles said. “I was in Matilda on Broadway for over three years, so I know and love this show deeply. I am excited to experience newness in a show that I have known for so long. To tell this story alongside different people, in front of different audiences in cities I’ve never been to before. It’s pretty thrilling.”
As with many performers, Bowles has had many great influential people, actors and teachers that have inspired her as she made her way to where she is today.
“My biggest influence in theater is Craig Carnelia,” Bowles shared. “He’s an excellent writer, and has been my acting teacher for many years. He taught me to approach songs with truth, to be grounded and real always.
“So many performers have influenced and inspired me through the years, it’s difficult to single people out … But a few folks stand out in my mind at this very moment.
“I had the great pleasure of seeing Ben Platt in Dear Evan Hansen recently, and I was amazed. His performance is transcendent. He should absolutely win every single award this season. I also was floored by Cynthia Erivo as Celie in The Color Purple. The song “I’m Here” simultaneously destroyed and inspired me; it reminded me that no one should ever apologize for being who they really are. Acceptance and love are the way. Another influential performance in recent years was Billie Joe Armstrong as St. Jimmy in American Idiot. He was the spirit of that show. Also, off stage he showed the entire cast a huge amount of respect and love. He didn’t act like a rockstar; he acted like our equal. He showed us all that success doesn’t give you the permission to act like a diva, that off stage kindness is just as important as your on stage performance.”
While Matilda the Musical has taken on some kind of cult following with children, there are many things adults will enjoy as well. The stunning visuals, great script and score and the amazing choreography will surely please people of all ages and the story will most definitely grab at the heartstrings of all who see it.
Do yourself and your kids a favor and see it.
Tickets for Matilda can be purchased at the San Diego Civic Theatre box office at 1100 Third Ave. (Third Avenue and B Street – Civic Concourse), or by calling (619) 570-1100. Tickets can also be purchased at broadwaysd.com
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