The Dark Side of a Musical: Tim Minchin and Dennis Kelly Bring Matilda to Life

By Adam Hetrick
27 May 2013

Kelly, however, is forthcoming about not being the biggest fan of musicals. "I'll admit to being a bit of a musical cynic before," he says. "I'd probably seen a couple of dodgy musicals and had wrongly judged the entire form on that."

Minchin, whose comedy acts are punctuated with theatrical story songs, was also slightly skeptical about his own aspirations to write for the stage. "I didn't know whether I was that engaged in theatre and the telling of stories, [but] as it turns out I am and always have been," he says.

Both writers say their collaboration on bringing Matilda to life ignited a new passion for the musical form. "The funny thing about theatre is, you hear people say, 'I went to see a play once and I didn't like it'—you never hear that with a film," Kelly says.

"What I've grown to understand about musicals," he adds, "is that you're working with a much broader pallet because you're playing to 1,500 people and the emotions are being sung. But just because the pallet is more colorful, or broader, or the brushes are thicker, it doesn't mean that the work itself is any less profound—if anything it's more."

Coloring Matilda's world are Minchin's songs, which the cast doles out to the audience like a series of tart lollipops. Among these musical delights is "When I Grow Up," a ballad that holds a mirror up to the child in all of us—especially the adult theatregoers in the audience.

"I just wanted to write a song that captured the vibe of the show, and wasn't to be sung by any one character, but was a chorus number," Minchin says. "‘When I Grow Up' is sort of the song that people remember most now.… It just places a sort of blanket of un-sentimental sentimentality across it."

Without getting too sentimental, Kelly says he hopes audiences can find inspiration in the tale of a little girl with a powerful imagination. "It's a sort of celebration of creating things," Kelly says of Matilda. "All stories are about getting your imagination going. I think that creativity, no matter which way it comes out is, by and large, a really positive force in our lives."