I still remember seeing Annie on stage for the first time when I was a little girl. My sisters and I brought home the cast recording with its bright red and white cover and spun it endlessly on our record player. We sang “It’s A Hard Knock Life” with the conviction of Depression-era orphans.
With those memories of Annie still playing in my mind, I jumped at the chance to take my seven-year-old daughter Rowan to see Matilda The Musical, based on the book by Roald Dahl. It’s playing at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco through August 15th.
At the heart of the story is Matilda, a five-year-old prodigy whose idiotic parents can’t understand why she loves to read so much. When Matilda begins school, her sweet teacher Miss Honey recognizes her brilliance and looks out for her. But the school is ruled by an evil headmistress, Miss Trunchbull. She hates the children and punishes them by locking them in the dreaded “Chokey.”
Matilda isn’t just smart. She has a fierce mischievous streak, which she uses to put bullies in their place. And that’s just what my daughter Rowan likes best about the character. “My favorite part was when Matilda played tricks on her dad," Rowan said. "I liked when she put glue in his hat and turned his hair green.” I am now wondering if maybe I should lock up our supply of crazy glue.
The theater was filled with lots of little Matilda fans the Sunday matinee performance I attended, including Josie Marroquin, 7, from San Francisco. “My favorite character is Matilda because she’s brave and smart,” Josie said to me. Josie's favorite part is when Matilda wowed Miss Honey with her mastery of her “times tables.” That thrills Josie, because she’s working on her own times tables, said her grandfather Rex Ridgeway. Personally, I think every little girl needs a heroine who is known for her superior math skills.
Like a good Pixar movie, Matilda is one of those family entertainments that is actually entertaining for family members over the age of 12. I loved sweet, smart Matilda. But I enjoyed the idiots and the evildoers even more. While busy repressing young children, Miss Trunchbull manages to do some hilarious singing, dancing and acrobatics. The character is played by Danville native Bryce Ryness, who looks fierce in the headmistress's gray bun and shoulder-padded military uniform.
And what of the music? This is a musical after all. The first song, “Miracle,” is kind of a slow starter. Rowan didn't really understand who all the kids were ("Where’s Matilda?") and this lengthy salute to badly behaved children grated on my nerves after a while. But the songs improve soon thereafter, when Matilda sings “Naughty.” I think the clever schoolgirl sees into Rowan’s soul when she sings: “We’re told we have to do what we’re told, but surely sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty.”
“When I Grow Up,” at the start of the second act, is sweet and melancholy, and earns joy points from Rowan because the kids play on giant swings as they sing. My favorite is “Revolting Children,” a rock anthem with a punk vibe -- well, punk for a Broadway show tune anyway.
Like many Broadway shows, seeing Matilda isn't cheap. Ticket prices start at $45 and there are no discounts for children, though a limited number of limited view rush tickets are available for $40 (cash only) two hours before curtain. Lining up for these rush tickets with small children on one of the busiest and most economically challenged sections of Market Street isn’t necessarily the easiest proposition for many parents, though. Plus, a ticket buyer can only purchase two rush tickets per performance, so taking the kids to a nearby cafe while your partner stands in line isn't likely.
That being said, the musical is worth the money if you can spare it. I even went as far as to drop $25 to buy the CD. We played it on the car ride home, and I can only hope it gets the same love that I gave my old vinyl copy of Annie.
If you're thinking of going to see the show...
Matilda is recommended for kids ages six and up. If you do have a young child, ask an usher for a booster seat so he or she can see over the giant adult heads in the way.
The production requires some staying power: it lasts 2 hours and 34 minutes with one 15 minute intermission.
Matilda the Musical runs through Aug. 15, SHN Orpheum Theater, 1192 Market Street, San Francisco.