I think we need to be honest and admit it: We all wanted to be Matilda. After watching the adorable 1996 movie adaptation of Roald Dahl’s children’s book, telekinetically partying in my kitchen while dancing to “Little Bitty Pretty One” was definitely on my bucket list. However, the source material for the film was actually a very different experience. In the film, Matilda manifests her powers with ease quite often, including levitating her friend Lavender. In the novel, Matilda only uses her power, referred to as “The Miracle”, a few times, none of which were for her personal gain. She did train her powers, but it was a much more focused process of maneuvering her father’s cigar, rather than making herself a nice meal.
Another major difference between the film and the novel is that Matilda was only five and a half years old when she started school, and everything takes places within a few months. Matilda does not sneak into Trunchbull’s house and wreak havoc, nor does she get locked in The Chokey. FBI agents do not stake out the Wormwoods’ house (although the Wormwoods do get discovered for their illegal care sales and flee to Spain), and Matilda doesn’t actually carry adoption papers with her wherever she goes. Most important to me is the fact that Matilda is skipped forward six grades in the novel, which causes her hyper intelligent mind to work so hard that she loses her powers forever, instead of keeping them for trivial pursuits like pulling books from shelves.
The point to all of this is that the 1996 film, generally adored by audiences, took liberties with the source material to make it more appealing for a film audience. More “action” and “comedy” were added to keep audiences’ attention, which is a very common practice in the industry. The adult figures are made into caricatures of themselves instead of the very real and dangerous representations of negligent caretakers Dahl’s novel described.
In a quick skim of the Cast Recording, I am happy to say that it seems to be drawing from the source material more than the movie. Songs like “Revolting” and “Miracle” pull from lines in the novel and expand on them the way musical theatre should (click here to be directed to a Spotify playlist with the entire cast recording). I’m excited to see just how the “miracles” manifest themselves on stage, and if more “special effects” are used to increase spectacle (and, typically, audience spending). Even if it does, Matilda: The Musical would probably still be an enjoyable experience. The characters and story are strong enough to withstand some “fluff” while presenting important issues. Overall, I’m hopeful for a beautifully told story of our plucky heroine and her misadventures.
Here’s a link to a Spotify playlist of Matilda: The Musical.