A talk with Tim Minchin, composer of the transatlantic hit musical “Matilda,” which opens at the 5th Avenue Theatre on Aug. 18.
“I’ve always been a variety addict,” declared Tim Minchin, composer of the transatlantic hit musical “Matilda,” over a recent lunch in Seattle.
“I’ve always been involved in the theater, wanted to act, make music and sing. Then I found comedy.”
The wildly successful “Matilda” opens a touring run at the 5th Avenue Theatre next week. And Minchin, on the edge of his 40th birthday, has never whittled down his list of creative pursuits. He has simply excelled at all of them.
Previews Tuesday-Wednesday (Aug. 18-19), runs Thursday, Aug. 20, through Sept. 6 at 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 Fifth Ave., Seattle; tickets start at $35 (206-625-1900 or 5thavenue.org).
During his Seattle jaunt in June, this genial showbiz Renaissance guy, who offstage tones down his signature look of wildly unkempt blond locks and heavily mascaraed eyes, ticked off some recent projects.
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Minchin, who was born in England but raised in Australia, is composing and directing the upcoming musical movie “Larrikins,” a DreamWorks Animation production.
The Australian miniseries “The Secret River,” in which Minchin portrays a Northern Irish ex-convict Down Under, has just come out on DVD.
And his comedy career, which has him playing piano and singing his own satirical tunes, has generated a devoted international following. And it continues apace. He recently played a gig in Seattle at the Moore Theatre, and upcoming are appearances in the nationally touring Funny or Die’s Oddball Comedy and Curiosity Festival.
Furthermore, Minchin is scoring the new “Groundhog Day” musical, based on the Bill Murray film comedy, tentatively set for a 2017 premiere in London. (“For me,” he says, “the movie screams for the theater because it’s about a character trapped in a play.”)
As much as the multitasking Los Angeles-based Minchin looks toward the future, however, he knows his score for the Olivier and Tony Award recipient “Matilda” elevated his “absolutely bloody great career” into orbit.
“Matilda,” which debuted at the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) in Stratford, England, and is still running strong in London and on Broadway, is based on the much-read, darkly comic 1988 novel by the late British author Roald Dahl, whom Minchin calls “by far the most important author of my childhood. He could write stories that appealed to children without ever being condescending.”
The book, and musical, focus on precocious little Matilda, a British child stuck in a proudly ignorant family that’s entirely unsympathetic to her brilliance and thirst for knowledge. Terrorized by her parents, and the despotic headmistress of her Dickensian school, Matilda finds haven with a compassionate teacher who offers her affection and encouragement.
Invited by the RSC to contribute music and lyrics to garnish playwright Dennis Kelly’s book for the show, Minchin happily accepted. (Ironically, a decade ago, the lesser-known Minchin tried but failed to secure the rights to Dahl’s book on his own.)
“It’s a cracking story,” he says, with still-boyish enthusiasm. “You don’t get a more attractive underdog than a 5-year-old genius whose emancipation is an outgrowth of her wisdom.”
Minchin’s songs have often mixed childlike silliness with laser wit, and in his eclectic “Matilda” songs the father of two got to be goofy as well as serious. One tune derives from a lullaby he sang to his daughter. Another ponders from a child’s vantage point what happens when you grow up. The anarchic joy of mistreated students in revolt ignites another tune.
The score grooves with Matthew Warchus’ visually inspired, highly kinetic staging for the show, which sports a cast dominated by child actors (including several who switch off in the demanding title role).
The London Guardian critic deemed, in a rave review of the 2011 London premiere of “Matilda,” that “If anything, it is actually richer than Dahl’s novel. It captures all the original’s delicious nastiness … but it also celebrates the solace of books and the transforming powers of the imagination.”
“We wanted to imbue the musical with the spirit of the book,” Minchin stressed. And of his theatrical success, he says with a wide grin, “It’s amazing. I’ve actually gone the most circuitous route to do what I’ve always wanted to do.”