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'Matilda' hits the main stem

A musical version of Roald Dahl’s classic, already a hit in London, unleashes its charm on New York.

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Girls are all the rage on Broadway this season. First there was a revival of Annie, and now there’s a whimsical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Matilda, about an extraordinarily gifted student who’s stuck in a school that’s run more like a barracks. The new musical opens on April 11 — one year after the original London production earned seven Olivier awards.

Matilda, like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Fantastic Mr. Fox, remains one of Dahl’s most cherished children’s novels thanks to its mix of lighthearted adventure and a certain dark edginess. ”I like things that are popular without being dumb,” says director Matthew Warchus, ”and this material builds a bridge between silliness and profundity.”

For the U.S. production, the show’s creators decided to keep both the British accents and a set that resembles an exploded Scrabble board. Still, they did make a few tweaks for American audiences. ”The word treacle we had to change to syrup,” says Dennis Kelly, who adapted the book for the stage, ”because I don’t think you have treacle.”

In addition, British actor Bertie Carvel reprises his role as the miniskirted menace Miss Trunchbull, the hammer-throwing headmistress who resents all her students, especially little Matilda Wormwood. Carvel plays opposite a rotating roster of four American girls — Bailey Ryon, 10; Milly Shapiro, 10; Sophia Gennusa, 9; and Oona Laurence, 10 — in the title role. ”The burden on those young shoulders is immense,” says Carvel of his costars. ”The kids really are the heart of the show.”

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