After almost two years of wanting, I finally got myself a ticket for Matilda the Musical on Broadway and it was everything I hoped it would be and more. (Even though I was literally in the last row of the second balcony … there’s only so much money a college kid can/is willing to spend on a Broadway show, especially with trips to Book of Mormon in Boston and possibly If/Then in SF planned for the relatively near future…)
The set was as beautiful as the pictures, and the cast was amazing. The show is SO much better with the visuals associated with sitting in the theater than it is just listening to the songs. The actors were fantastic, the choreography was beautiful, the entire show from start to finish was perfect. Well… almost perfect. Almost perfect for any average audience member and more than perfect for a techie like me.
There was a moment, in the middle of the song “Revolting Children” when things went wrong. The sets transition from classroom to living room to bedroom to Ms. Honey’s house to classroom to Ms. Trunchbull’s house to classroom to…to…to… Each time the classroom arrives, nine desks rise up out of the floor, and just as often, the desks sink back down. Except for when they don’t. In the middle of the song, eight of the nine desks dropped down into the ground, and the center desk … didn’t. For a moment, it seemed like that was just the choreography. A group of ten-year old professionals, not a single kid looked surprised, least of all the kid who’s desk wasn’t moving. But then the God mic sounded out: “Hold! Hold please.” Followed by about a second of silence as the kids stopped singing and the orchestra stopped playing and then, “All actors off the stage immediately.”
Never in my life have I seen a group of kids follow directions that quickly. In absolute silence, they were off the nearest wing in about two seconds flat. And, most significantly, either the sound tech muted all the microphones in a hot second or they were all completely silent for the five minutes they were backstage. Because that’s about how long it took for the curtain to come down, the announcement to the audience to be made, the desk to be dropped, and everyone to be ready to go.
The final aspect of the process that absolutely fascinated me was how quickly the kids figured out where they were when they started up again. Professionals through and through, even though they’re all between 8 and 15 years old. When the curtain came up, the lights were back to the previous cue, and the kids walked on immediately and stood where they’d been standing at that light cue. Once they were there, the music started and within about two beats they knew where they were in the music. And within a four count they were all singing and dancing as if they were standing on their sinking desks as normal. I know they know the music inside and out, but that still blew my mind.
And once they started up again, I knew exactly why that hold had to be called and why it had to be called immediately: about four bars after the Hold call, additional actors came onstage doing leaps, axles (a jump/spin combo), and cartwheels right over that desk. Had it been still standing, it would have led to some very confused and possibly injured actors.
The rest of the show finished seamlessly, I laughed some more, I cried some more, and I loved it all. But I will never forget the show I saw on Broadway where I was reminded that even on the biggest scales, with the most professional of professionals, live theater is just that: live. No retakes or post production editing; it’s all about being quick on your feet, making the split second decisions necessary for the safety of all involved, and keeping the audience informed and excited. No matter how many shows I see in my life, I’ll remember this one for that.