by Matt Smith
“Even if you’re little, you can do a lot!” It’s the emblematic anthem we all know and love, which has become synonymous with Matilda ever since the musical first landed on the Great White Way in April 2013. But though it’s been a little over a month since the smash hit musical closed at the Shubert Theatre (and coming on four years since the OG Matildas first took the stage), this past Saturday, 17 of the 19 Broadway bookworms proved that statement to be more true today than ever before. Indeed, the ladies were all in full form at the festive bash, aptly-titled “Matildapalooza.” Shepherded by their “mother,” original cast member Lesli Margherita, each one delivered a pitch-perfect performance (with harmonies to boot!), filling the room with a refreshing breath of the light and positivity we so desperately need right now.
For one, the evening was brilliantly structured, showcasing each clan of Matildas — branded with their own group name, natch — by dividing them into the foursome or threesome in which they appeared throughout their run in the show. This presentation allowed each performer their own chance to shine individually, while at the same time, emphasizing the strength of the sisterhood within each group. (The full company also came together at beginning, middle and end, further displaying the bond between sisters that permeates throughout.
Equally praiseworthy were the song selections themselves. Each performance was peppered with a video presentation that, on most occasions, served to introduce the song that group would sing. For example: Footage of the originals singing the chorus of Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire” in the dressing room – albeit, with a slight change in lyric, “Butt on Fire,” but come on, they were 10 and having fun! — segued into the four performing the full-fledged number live on stage (again with those impeccable harmonies, which I still can’t wrap my head around how they accomplished! I mean, seriously… what technique!!) Among the notables were original songs “Tiny Tilda’s Lament,” in which the third group of titular bookworms bemoaned the plight of being passed over for roles due to diminutive stature, and the “Chokey Tango,” a re-worked version of the Chicago favorite, sung by the full cast from the POV of Matilda, theorizing where each of her friends went wrong and crossed the Trunchbull in her path (via superb lyric changes by Matilda’s music supervisor Van Dean, to the likes of “I saw it comin’! They only had themselves to blame!”)
Of course, all of these elements contributed to a jubilant evening… but there was one additional aspect that really packed a punch. As we all know, Matilda’s morals are rooted in the belief that we should stand up to bullies, speak our mind, and not be belittled… and as a result, the majority of the songs sung at this concert reflect that message as well. Sure, one can chalk it up to a celebration of the themes of the show (indeed, that’s what it was anyway), but given what’s going on in our world today, the lyrics became painfully poignant. Songs like Sara Bareilles’ “Brave” (with lyrics “Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live / Maybe one of these days you can let the light in”) or “Roar” by Katy Perry (“I’ve got the eye of the tiger….‘cause I am a champion”) spread the idea of empowerment, lighting a fire within the audience, and revving them up to take on the world. Meanwhile, others, like Stevie Wonder’s “All About the Love Again” (“We would have no time to waste on trivial things like war and pain”), and Naomi Young’s “I Have a Voice” – recently recorded by the Broadway Kids as part of the No Bully / Broadway Kids Against Bullying movement – speak directly to the issues at hand. What’s more? The effect resonates even further when you realize you’re watching 17 young girls all under the age of 15 share these hopeful, empowering messages. They get it. They are the ones who these issues really effect, and they will be the ones to change the world.
Perhaps then, it’s safe to say, in retrospect, Matildapalooza is exactly what we need right now… even if we may not realize it. Yes, it’s a celebration of the show, but in that vein, you also leave with hope and a burning passion to go out and make a change for the better. Was that their aim? Not sure… but it worked. Even if you’re little, you can do a lot indeed.
Matildapalooza played Feinstein’s/54 Below (254 W. 54th Street) February 3-4, and will return to the venue on February 16-17; Deborah Abramson music directs. For tickets and more information, please visit www.54below.com.