Theatre Critic and Journalist

RSC’s Matilda: the Musical a hit on Broadway

RSC’s Matilda: the Musical a hit on Broadway

Published in The Guardian, 12.04.2013

Matilda: the Musical, winner of a record-breaking seven Olivier awards in London, has opened to huge acclaim on Broadway, assuring the show of at least two further international productions.

The Royal Shakespeare Company‘s production – its first Broadway premiere in 15 years – was heralded as “even more glorious than we were promised,” by the influential New York Times critic Ben Brantley, who dubbed it “the most satisfying and subversive musical ever to have come out of Britain.”

Already a hit at home, following its 2010 world premiere in Stratford-Upon-Avon, the RSC’s adaptation of Roald Dahl‘s novel , about a super-intelligent young girl surrounded by unencouraging adults, now looks set to be a War Horse-style cash cow. A spokesperson for the company told the Guardian: “We are planning an Australian production and a US tour in the next two years.”

An RSC spokesman said on Friday that the company was “anticipating a $17m (£11m) advance by the end of the day,” to add to the $4m(£2.5m) taken at box office during its first five weeks of previews.

Brantley praised almost every single element of the musical: from Dennis Kelly’s “brilliant book” to Tim Minchin’s “addictive songs”, and singling out Bertie Carvel’s performance (originally seen in London) as the dastardly Miss Trunchbull as “incomparable.”

Four American girls will take turns in the title role, although several actors have transferred to Broadway, also including Lauren Ward who plays Miss Honey. The show retains its Britishness, with the leads adopting a British accent.

There was similarly high praise elsewhere, with the Chicago Tribune declaring it “far and away the best new musical of the Broadway season,” and Peter Marks of the Washington Post heralding “the most splendiferous new musical of the year.” Time Out New York advised its younger readers, “If your rotten mum or dad won’t go, I suggest nicking their wallets and buying tickets yourself.”

Such ecstatic reviews will raise hopes of success at the Tony Awards in June, and are being held up – like War Horse – as a success story for the UK’s system of subsidy, which is under threat from ongoing Arts Council cuts.

Matilda’s success would have been impossible without the British taxpayer, said RSC executive director Catherine Mallyon: “The seedcorn funding provided by public investment in our work and the generosity of two major donors created the conditions which allowed this magical story to take flight.”

It marks a triumphant return for the RSC, which hasn’t had a new show on Broadway since Peter Whelan’s The Herbal Bed at the Eugene O’Neill theatre in 1998. More recent New York transfers have played off-Broadway, notably the five play season it housed in the Park Avenue Armoury in 2011.

RSC Artistic director Greg Doran said: “I think there’s something universal in the story. It is about imagination and how words can inspire imagination and it’s about how it’s OK to be clever.”

It was announced yesterday that a further 250,000 tickets will be released after the weekend for the West End production, which has played at 98% capacity since opening in October 2011. The production, which recouped its £7 million investment within ten weeks, is now booking until May 2014 and its advance currently stands at £5 million.

Such figures will more than counter the 15% real terms cut to the RSC’s Arts Council funding in 2011, which amounted to almost £1m. Having cancelled its annual tour to Newcastle for the last two years as a result, the RSC has reinstated the tradition this year and will return North in October.

The RSC’s all-black Julius Caesar, starring Paterson Joseph, opened at the Brooklyn Academy of Music last night.

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