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Review: “Matilda”‘s Ear-Piercing Broadway Cast Recording

October 21st, 2013 Comments off
The Broadway cast of "Matilda The Musical." (photo: Joan Marcus)

The Broadway cast of “Matilda The Musical.” (photo: Joan Marcus)

Matilda The Musical has released a Broadway cast album. After a smattering of rave reviews it is no surprise that the producers, headlined by the Royal Shakespeare Company, would elect to commemorate the American incarnation of the British sensation.

When the show opened this past spring it was like the world stopped to nod its head toward the musical with notices like “The makers of “Matilda” have done the impossible—triumphantly.” (The Wall Street Journal) and “The best musical since the Lion King!” (Time). Ben Brantley, the notoriously harsh critic from The New York Times pronounced Matilda as “…the most satisfying and subversive musical ever to come out of Britain.” Since opening night the box office has soared and every bourgeois housewife in the tri-state area has scrambled her way into Shubert Alley hoping to pick up tickets for the kiddies.

The Broadway cast of "Matilda The Musical." (photo: Joan Marcus)

The Broadway cast of “Matilda The Musical.” (photo: Joan Marcus)

My experience with Matilda has been filled with jilting and jolting, especially now having listened to the new recording. I first encountered the show as a cast album from London about a year and a half ago. No presumptions on the title, I had never heard of the composer, Tim Minchin, and didn’t have a point of a view on the material – I was looking forward to hearing a new show for the first time. Call me a show queen, if you please.  My first listen had my ears and heart curious, enjoying the spastic and catchy clips of melody intertwined with British zingers. The tunes sounded different and the score ascertained a frenzied style that gave life to the content and storybook characters created by the literary genius, Roald Dahl. It felt like a fun show with heart and energy and I couldn’t wait to see the show on Broadway! At last something that felt unique with a sound and personality all its own.

Seeing the Broadway incarnation of Matilda twice this past theater season, I left the show both times with a headache and found myself scratching my head thinking, “What’s the big deal about this musical?” The staging combined with the jerky and loud score felt ultra aggressive. Somehow the parts did not add up. The show shouted and screamed but never made a point to make me listen. Matilda competes with itself in every aspect: the staging is robotic and sharp—absent of nuance or individuality—while the score is often too fast and over orchestrated to hear the lyrics. Here is an example of quantity over quality.

The new cast album, with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin and book by Dennis Kelly, captures the show with extended songs not on the London album—the opening song, “Miracle,” now has three parts with individual tracks. The majority of the score is a plunky repetition of vamps that circle songs like sharks in the Bermuda Triangle. The kids have been directed to screech and scratch through every syllable of the lyrics, which are often times clever but too busy to understand what they mean or hear them through the background noise. During the mother’s song, “Loud,” it sounds like the music director abducted the Tin Man on his way to the find Oz and heaved him into the orchestra pit.

Two songs emerge from the clutter with some grace. The “want” song Matilda sings at the beginning of the show, “Naughty” (performed by the sweet-voiced Sophia Gennusa) is delightful and sets a tone for the character but sadly doesn’t make a reprise soon enough. “When I Grow Up” (performed by Lauren Ward and Bailey Ryon) gets Act Two off to a good start after the annoying “Telly” song that brings the audience back to their seats in a Lets-Make-A-Deal / Borsch Belt approach. “When I Grow Up” is welcomed because it has a tuneful melody that sounds like something kids would actually say and think about: “And when I grow up, I will eat sweets every day on the way to work and I will go to bed late every night!”

Matilda personifies the power and danger of how hype can affect a Broadway show. The new recording catapults itself to the front of the class, but its once gentle and delicate voice has been overshadowed with the mechanisms of an overproduced musical.

THEATER BUFF: Ryan Steele of “Matilda”

February 20th, 2013 Comments off

Every third Wednesday of the month, a fabulous actor/singer/dancer will fill out my nosey little questionnaire and offer a glimpse of what they look like from a bit closer than the mezzanine. For February, we’re making a leap with a buff who is jumping from one blockbuster Broadway show, Newsiesto another…

Ryan Steele.

Name: Ryan Steele

Hometown: Walled Lake, MI

Current Show/Role: Ensemble in Matilda. (In rehearsals)

The best part of the show I’m working on now is: Well it’s still pretty new, but so far one of the best parts is the excitement that EVERYONE is feeling. It’s amazing to walk into work knowing that every single person in the building is SO happy to be there. That’s how it feels over at the Shubert. We’re all having a blast.

The most challenging job in show business I ever had was: When I swung Billy Elliot. I had just come from a show that I had done for almost two years in the same track. It was a crazy feeling to suddenly have 12 tracks to learn.

If I wasn’t an actor, I would be: Some sort of teacher.

Places, Intermission or Curtain Call? Some of my favorite memories from Newsies were during intermission. It was normally 15 minutes of laughing at some crazy mishap that took place during act 1.

The best post-show cocktail in New York City is at: My boyfriend and I always seem to end up at Nizza on Ninth Avenue. Our friend is the bartender, so consequently, we’ve made friends with the rest of the staff. It’s a nice, chill vibe. I also really like The New York Beer Company.

Ryan Steele. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

After you’ve hit all the traditional sites of New York City, you should totally go to: My roommates and I have a few restaurants that we would drop everything to go to. Pipa on East 19th and Scarpetta in the Meat Packing district.

Ryan Steele. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

If I could live anywhere else in the world it would be: Right now, I can’t imagine living anywhere else. I do love New Orleans though. I haven’t traveled internationally as much as I’d like, but I imagine I would love Italy.

When I travel, the one thing I can’t leave home without is: iPod and comfy clothes.

My workout “secret” is: Oh gosh….Ummm. I don’t go to the gym haha. I try to eat healthy, and I’m lucky enough to have a job that does the working out for me.

When I’m looking for a date, nothing attracts me more than: Having a passion for something.

My favorite website to visit that you may not have heard of is: Thought Catalog. Some of the articles are duds, but most of them crack me up.

Board shorts, speedo or skinny dip? Short board shorts?

People would be surprised to learn that I: I have an app on my iPhone called Atomic Farts.

When I was 10, I wanted to be just like: The older guys at my dance studio.

Ten years from now, I’d like to be: Happy

When I feel a case of the wintertime blues coming on, the first thing I do is: Eat something super unhealthy. Food can do wonders.

Ryan Steele. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Big Broadway Casting Including LaBeouf, Hanks & More

December 21st, 2012 Comments off

Bertie Carvel & Lauren Ward in "Matilda: The Musical". Photo by Tristram Kenton.

Announcements about famous faces coming to Broadway have been coming fast and furious over the last few weeks, so let’s try to catch up by playing a little six-degrees of the casting couch…

  • Shia LaBeouf (Transformers, Wall Street 2), whose name loosely translates as “The Beefy Gift of God,” will be making his Broadway debut in a revival of Orphans opposite Alec Baldwin.  Mr. Baldwin appeared in the 1990 Woody Allen film Alice, which also featured…
  • Blythe Danner. Image via PlaybillVault.com.

    Blythe Danner, who this weekend began a 12-week run as the deus ex machina Mother in Nice Work If You Can Get It. The Tony and Emmy-winning Danner last appeared on Broadway in the cast of the 2001 revival of Follies as Phyllis, which also included…

  • Lauren Ward, who will be making the transfer to Broadway from the West End production of Matilda  alongside the Olivier-winning Bertie Carvel. Familiar to New York audiences for her acclaimed work in the revival of 1776 and off-Broadway’s Violet, Ms. Ward had a small role in the film comedy In and Out featuring Bob Newhart, whose self-titled sitcom also starred…
  • George Wendt (Cheers), who will be joining the wonderful Cory Michael Smith (C*ck) and Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones) in the upcoming adaptation of Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  No word on how Kevin Bacon fits into any of this.

“Forbidden” Returns, Cheyenne Jackson Goes Porn & More Theater News

July 27th, 2012 Comments off

In honor of the Olympic games, this week’s theater news wrap-up will be extra speedy (with, I hope, bonus points for style). On your mark, get set, GO…

Marcus Stevens, Natalie Charlé Ellis, Jenny Lee Stern and (kneeling) Scott Richard Foster in "Forbidden Broadway: Alive and Kicking". Photo by Carol Rosegg.

  • Something wicked (and wickedly awesome) this way comes as the ever-popular, star-skewering Forbidden Broadway makes a triumphant return this week. The limited run officially opens in September and promises all-new parodies of Porgy and Bess, Once, The Book of Mormon and Spider-Man. And if I were Ricky Martin, I’d be preparing myself for some ribbing about left arm acting.
  • The hit Off-Broadway revival of Closer Than Ever is getting two new leading ladies for its extension, Jacquelyn Piro Donovan (Miss Siagon) and, one of our faves, Julia Murney (Wicked). I’m checking it out this weekend so watch for a review later this week.
  • Another Off-Broadway hit is proving pundits wrong and settling in for a longer run. The acclaimed drama Tribes announced an extension through January 6, 2013.
  • And finally, two dates to add to your calendar: the always-popular free concert Broadway on Broadway is scheduled for 11:30am on September 9th and the Broadway transfer of the London smash Matilda: The Musical is scheduled to begin previews March 4, 2013 at the Shubert Theatre.

“Death” Opens, Creel Streams & More Theater News

March 15th, 2012 Comments off

Andrew Garfield & Finn Wittrock in "Death of a Salesman". Photo by Brigitte Lacombe.

It’s raining men in a drenched round-up of the week’s theater headlines:

  • Gavin Creel. Photo by Monica Simoes.

    Supporting the March 20 release of his new album Get Out, my imaginary boyfriend and double Tony-nominee Gavin Creel will perform two sold out concerts at Joe’s Pub March 19. For those of us who don’t have tickets (or who are barred from attending because of restraining orders), the wonders of modern technology will allow us to watch it all via livestream on the web, Monday night at 9:30.

  • Remember the Ricky Martin video where everyone is dancing around in a sexy deluge? Well, it was like that (except not so sexy, I assume) on the stage of Martin’s revival of Evita when a fire safety mechanism misfired and drenched the stage after the first preview Monday night. The Tuesday night and Wednesday matinee performances were canceled for clean-up and a rehearsal.


Sondheim Reveals New Show, Chita Rivera Returns & More Theater News

March 2nd, 2012 Comments off

Extra! Extra! We’ve got your quick and tasty theater news headlines for the week that was:

  • The First Lady of high kicks Chita Rivera will return to Broadway next season in the first-ever revival of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, the choose-your-own ending Tony winner for Best Musical 1986.
  • Hollywood heat-seekers Justin Long (Going the Distance, Mac commercials) and Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic Park) will be taking over the lead roles in the hit comedy Seminar beginning April 3.
  • The King of creepy/awesome children’s literature Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) is making it to Broadway as the critically-acclaimed West End adaptation of Matilda The Musical jumps across the pond for a 2013 debut.