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Matilda” isn’t just one of the most anticipated shows of the Broadway season. This new musical is the theater’s latest shot at the dream of a global blockbuster, a rare glory that producers and audiences crave to offset all the duds that cross the stage each year.
An underdog story about a spunky British schoolgirl outwitting cruelty, “Matilda” has arrived red hot with the sort of acclaim, awards and ticket sales for its London production that indicate real potential to become a moneymaker and fan favorite in New York. Such success can confer the “Broadway hit” label, which is crucial for starting productions in Asia, South America and across the United States and Europe — the tours where real fortunes are made. The dream is “The Phantom of the Opera,” which has grossed $5.6 billion worldwide since 1986. The dream is “The Lion King” ($5 billion since 1997) and “Wicked” ($3 billion since 2003).
Whether “Matilda” will eventually join their ranks, after opening on April 11, is the high-stakes question of the theater season. Because, for all the hype about the musical in Britain and now in New York, no one can say with certainty that “Matilda” will become the next blockbuster, or the latest London hit that fell short of expectations on Broadway — joining musicals like “Billy Elliot,” “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” and “Blood Brothers.”
The answer hinges on whether the sensibility and sophistication of “Matilda” will translate to American audiences — specifically the families and tourists who are the backbone of the billion-dollar Broadway industry, which depends on a handful of blockbuster shows to counter a couple of dozen failures each year.
We knew that if you took a Disney musical sensibility to ‘Matilda,’ everyone who loves Roald Dahl — not to mention the Dahl estate — would have gotten pretty grumpy pretty quickly,” said the musical’s composer, Tim Minchin, the Australian comic and singer whose other songs for the show include “Naughty,” “The Smell of Rebellion” and “When I Grow Up.”