Broadway's Matilda: Pro-life and Pro-family?
The family and I were in Manhattan last weekend visiting friends and decided to take in a Broadway musical (and refreshing super-sized sodas). We settled on one of Broadway's hottest tickets, Matilda, now in previews at the Shubert. The show is fast-paced, light, funny, and has a good message: A human life -- a child's life -- is precious, from conception through rearing.
So what gives? Generally speaking, Matilda runs against the artsy left's beliefs and worldview. That's not to suggest that every lefty is pro-abortion or anti-child. But, hey, let's face it, "choice" ain't exactly frowned upon by libs, and kids often take a backseat to "fulfillment" in the ethos of a Western culture still dominated by those zany, maturity-challenged folk who came along in the free-swinging sixties and self-indulgent seventies.
Matilda the musical is based on Roald Dahl's kids' book by the same name. There's really no show-stopping tune, but the songs are snappy. There's some uproariously funny bits, and Bertie Carve, a London stage actor making his (yes, his) Broadway debut, steals the show as Miss Trunchbull, the head mistress of the hellish boarding school that little Matilda is packed off to by her uncaring parents, the Wormwoods, played hilariously by Gabriel Gilbert and Lesli Margherita.
The show opens with Mrs. Wormwood's unexpected pregnancy. Margherita's character is a florid guttersnipe who'd rather dirty dance with her Latin boyfriend than have another baby (the Wormwoods are in possession of a teenage son who's a meat-headed cipher).
When Mrs. Wormwood protests about the little loaf in her oven, her doc launches into a short discourse on the value and joy of babies and children. The doc's dialogue does slip in the word "planned" -- as in a planned pregnancy as a qualifier to valuing and enjoying a baby. But one imagines that the word "planned" was inserted by the playwright as a politically-correct sop to the pro-choice crowd. After all, why is the doc counseling Mrs. Wormwood about the wondrousness of the baby she's carrying if unplanned is such a bad thing?
Mrs. Wormwood, still grousing, has her baby. Thus Matilda enters the world. Matilda (the role is rotated among four child actresses; Milly Shapiro was on stage the night we attended) is a bright, inquisitive child with an instinct for the moral and decent, which is quite at odds with the Wormwoods' makeup. Mr. Wormwood is a sure match for his floozy wife; he's a small-time grifter, a not-so-smooth hustler always on the make for the big score.
The Wormwoods could give two figs for little Matilda. Both deprecate her intelligence and love of books. They resent her natural and assertive honesty. Matilda is a nuisance to be suffered un-gladly at times and neglected, mostly. The Wormwoods praise their oafish son for being nothing more than a TV-addicted coach potato, while berating lil' Matilda.
Matilda, given short shrift, is trundled off to boarding school (how the low-rent Wormwoods afford even the dungeon-like school they send Matilda to is a mystery, but that's where the willing suspension of disbelief comes in, one supposes).
At the boarding school, Matilda -- like her schoolmates -- is under the thumb of the wretched and cruel Miss Trunchbull, who's more a prison warden on the order of a penal colony in French Guiana than a headmistress. Even Matilda's teacher, Miss Honey (played by Lauren Ward), is cowed by the imperious and nasty Miss Trunchbull (reminiscent of the "Chief Blue Meanie" in the Beatles' Yellow Submarine.
The story resolves itself with Matilda standing up to the bullying Trunchbull, thereby helping her classmates and teacher acquire the spine to do so as well. Matilda, despite her unloving relationship with her dad, saves him from the clutches of the Russian mafia, whom Mr. Wormwood has unsuccessfully tried to scam.
Miss Honey, who has keenly appreciated Matilda's gifts from the get-go, and has taken a real shine to her, has Mr. Wormwood easily agree to surrender his daughter to her charge, where she can get more than a proper upbringing, but a loving one (the NEA's gotta lap that up!).
To give the story a more contemporary twist, it may have been good to give Matilda two overachieving professionals as her mum and dad, rather than the classless, self-absorbed Wormwoods. There'd be something repulsively sinister about two smart career-driven and self-obsessed lawyers or investment bankers or media pros or politicos shunting their daughter aside than the stereotypes that the Wormwoods are -- you know, London or Manhattan high achievers who are content with quality-time with their kids while offloading the heavy lifting of child-rearing to pricey quantity-time nannies. But that might be too close to the bone for mommy and daddy professionals willing to shell out top dollar (two hundred bucks or more for a primo seat) at the Shubert.
One can only hope that after this write-up is in broader circulation that the gals at NOW and the abortion pimps at Planned Parenthood don't put the squeeze on Matilda's producers to twist the plot and the doc's dialogue to better reflect the brittle feminist abortion-PC mania that grips the arts, the popular culture, and those compassionate, well-heeled libs who populate the Island of Manhattan.
After all, Matilda is packing the house nightly. Why mess with success?