Broadway Show Review – Matilda

Matilda Playbill

A few weeks ago we held had our annual trip to see several Broadway shows.  This is a review of the lighting and sound for “Matilda” at the Shubert theatre.  I’m not going to review the overall show -there are many reviews of the story and show.  This is a review of tech aspects.

Sound:  The sound, especially at the start of the show with the youth actors, was challenging.  Intelligibility was seriously lacking.  The actors were using thick British accents, so intelligibility at the top of the show is important, if for nothing more than getting my brain set for the duration of the show.  The sound was mushy (muddy) and seemed to need more mid-range frequencies.  Additionally, the vocals were not on top of the orchestra.  Sometimes in these cases the orchestra is too loud.  But for “Matilda”, this wasn’t the case.  The actors were just not loud enough at the top of the show.  I did find that the principal adult actors were well balanced and had excellent intelligibility.  I’ve heard from others who saw the show in previous years that had similar criticism.

Lights:  Overall, the lighting was excellent, designed by Hugh Vanstone.  Very colorful, which suited the show quite well.  Plenty of light on stage, especially the high key library scenes.  Darker scenes like the classroom were totally appropriate, and with sufficient front spotlight to pick up the actors faces.  I’ve seen several other shows that seem to love under lighting principle actors only to loose all facial expressions.  Billy Elliot comes to mind where I’ve been pretty vocal about insufficient lighting in several spots where actors are delivering lines with almost no light, including lack of side light and back light – just plain too dark.  One thought about the opening scene with the birthday cake – the candles were LED which is great.  But instead of a single LED in a molded flame, the show was using birthday cake candles where each flame had what looked like 5-6 individual tiny LEDs.  This created an nice effect more similar to a sparkler than a typical birthday candle.  It’s a design decision, and fit nicely with the somewhat cartoon nature of the show.

Tech:  At the top of the show, they halted the show twice just after the curtain opened.  I feel for the cast and crew.  Some idiots in the house actually booed on the second halt.  No manners.  On the second try, it was obvious the scrim was stopping about 2m (6 feet) as it lifted off the floor.  On the third try, they had already struck the scrim and just moved into the show.  Great recovery.  There were several illusions in the show, and there’s even a cast credit for Illusion (Paul Kieve).  Kieve and Vanstone both worked on “Ghost”.  The most impressive illusion in “Matilda” is a chalkboard that writes with no visible means.  While there were two large digital projectors mounted on the balcony rail, video is the obvious effect.  But the chalkboard moves downstage while it is magically writing, and there was absolutely NO visible tracking mismatch.  So it’s either incredibly accurate tracking, or something else.  If something else, perhaps the chalk writing was rear projected and physically traveling with the screen.  A much simpler solution (thanks Kevin!), but I really don’t know!

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