Transport yourself for a night, not just into the classic tale of a heroic little girl, but straight into London’s West End. The stage is set identically to the original spectacular. The props, the music, and best of all, the cast. They all come to us right from the source. The first stop on the year-long tour to bring Roald Dahl’s Matilda around the world begins in Israel. With rehearsals beginning in London, moving over to South Africa, and finally breaking a leg on stage in Israel’s very own House of Opera.
For those unfamiliar with the story, it follows a young girl named Matilda. She comes from a dysfunctional home followed by a tyrannical school run by the evil Miss Trunchbull. At school, she arrives only to outshine her peers with her superior genius. This is the premise of the original novel, the original 1996 film, and now the musical by Tim Minchin and Dennis Kelly. The play which inspired the 2022 film.
The story is one that has aged very efficiently into modern times. The play, book, and films all pass the Bechdel test instantly. The story of a young woman, using her brains, wits, and kindness to save the day is still unique today, let alone in 1988 when the book was first published by Roald Dahl only two years before he died.
Matilda seemed like an obvious choice to become a hit musical. The play broke the record for seven Olivier Awards earned by a single play. It was renewed early and pushed into a Broadway production overseas in New York. The play is acclaimed as one of the most successful West End productions of all time. It’s natural that all this worldwide success would then be taken on a global tour.
Touring a production this large is a production in itself. Three 10-year-old Matilda’s, a guardian for each, plus their tutors so they don’t miss education for the full year-long tour. That’s just for the star! The band, understudies, production team, and even the traveling sets, all have a place on the world’s various stages. Next up is Dubai, followed by China, Singapore, Bangkok, and so on.
Israel in turn has outdone itself, proving that we have always had West End capabilities in our theatres. The sets were mimicked, the maximum 1644 seats were filled, and zero charm was lost in the transfer. Perhaps the most notable difference in the Israeli stage would be the Hebrew subtitles at the top.
According to Carl Ashford, the sax and clarinet player in the band, “The Israeli audience claps a lot. There’s a lot. There’s a nice energy and vibe. Especially for us in the band. We only come in at the last moment and there’s a huge applause. It’s really warm and welcoming.” The only 6-person orchestra is a shock at appearance. The talent blasts the theatre into believing there are surely more people in the band behind the curtain.
Similar answers were given from the young Matilda actress herself, and her mother who has been accompanying her. “We’ve been sightseeing a bit. Going to the beach. Going to Jerusalem on the day off.” The audiences have been so excited and so welcoming.” When the young who plays Matilda was asked about her Israeli experience, she replied, “I think the Israeli audience is much more appreciative than the London audience. It claps a lot and it’s really encouraging. And they laugh.”
We are grateful that the cast and crew enjoy the Israeli enthusiasm because this is a rare treat for the Israeli State. It’s not too often that a traveling performance of this scale and popularity will grace our stage for a whole month! The play is at the height of its popularity, and only thanks to their travels, can Israelis experience a true taste of being in sync with the rest of the theater world.
The play was performed to the highest level. There is nothing but positive things to say. The acting was top-class. The sets were exactly as high-tech, and elaborate as those on West End, and the dancing numbers showed the Israeli stage what can be done with budget and popularity. This performance felt no different than watching it in New York or London. What are you waiting for? Get your tickets now at the Israeli Opera website.