The battle to keep award-winning musical Matilda British…



22:50 GMT, 19 April 2012

The award-winning Matilda the Musical will begin performances on Broadway in March next year — and the schoolgirl at the centre of the story will not be Americanised.

There had been pressure to change Matilda’s nationality. ‘Should we turn the kids from English children to American kids We were asked that, and we have said a definitive no,’ said Andre Ptaszynski, who executive produces Matilda on behalf of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

‘It would be a whole different kind of show if the kids became American. It’s not happening,’ Ptaszynski insisted.

Staying British: The schoolgirl at the centre of Matilda will not be Americanised

Staying British: The schoolgirl at the centre of Matilda will not be Americanised

Rehearsals on the musical, by Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin, are due to begin in New York in January and while the children cast to play the title role of Matilda — a bright child whose parents disdain er remarkable educational skills — will be American, the character will remain British, in the same way the kids in the musical Billy Elliot were auditioned and cast in the United States but remained definitely from Durham.

The Royal Shakespeare Company spent years developing the show, based on Roald Dahl’s novel, at their headquarters in Stratford-upon-Avon and in London, and they have dialect coaches who will travel to New York to work with the cast to help them achieve the perfect English accent.

In fact, the intention is for the cast to be all-American — though it would be great if Bertie Carvel, who is superb as horrible headmistress Miss Trunchbull in the production running at the Cambridge Theatre in London, could repeat his role in New York.

As an Olivier-award winning actor (he won best actor in a musical last week, even though he was playing a woman!) he might be given special status by Actors’ Equity Association to perform on Broadway.

Director Matthew Warchus and choreographer Peter Darling will begin casting in the autumn.

I can see the show becoming a mammoth hit over here, particularly with competitive Upper East and West side parents.

One mother told me she’d already seen the show in London and is eager to buy out whatever theatre Matilda opens at in New York, for one performance, for her daughter’s birthday.

‘It’s the perfect present — as long as I do it first. All my daughter’s friends and class can come, and their families, too,’ the woman who, unsurprisingly, asked me not to name her, told me.

It sounds outlandish but I can see it happening because Matilda, with its RSC branding, is something to show off about.

I agree: S'wonderful!

It was easy to figure out why Sarah Jessica Parker had a smile a mile wide on her face as she sat watching husband Matthew Broderick hoofing it up on stage with Kelli O’Hara, his other leading lady.

The Sex And The City star was cheering as Broderick did a slapstick song-and-dance number in the new musical comedy Nice Work If You Can Get It — a delightfully daft show featuring classic George and Ira Gershwin show tunes such as Someone To Watch Over Me, Delishious, Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off, S’Wonderful, Fascinating Rhythm, Lady Be Good, I’ve Got A Crush On You — and the title number.

It reminded me of the Mike Ockrent and Susan Stroman musical Crazy For You, which was a hit in New York and London 20 years ago.

Broderick returns to Broadway: Matthew Broderick during a scene from the musical Nice Work If You Can Get It at the Imperial Theater in New York

Broderick returns to Broadway: Matthew Broderick during a scene from the musical Nice Work If You Can Get It at the Imperial Theater in New York

‘It’s just a lot of fun, isn’t it’ said the actress who played Carrie, the Manhattan girl about town, in SATC on television and the big screen. I had to agree — not out of politeness, but because I, too, had a ball watching a preview of Nice Work at the Imperial Theatre.

To be sure, the show (set in the Prohibition era) has a wafer-thin book by Joe DiPietro.

Inspired by material from Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse, it’s about a wealthy playboy (Broderick) who’s about to get married for the fourth, or fifth time . . . he’s not sure which, because he’s always sozzled.

But then he meets a bootlegger, played by the sublime Ms O’Hara, who was so good in South Pacific at the Lincoln Centre a few seasons back.

The gags are oldies but goldies and the two leads — along with Judy Kaye and Michael McGrath, in particular — know how to time a funny line.

A good friend of mine totally disagreed when he saw it on another night, and left at the intermission, which I found baffling. I’m with SJP on this one: it’s a lot of fun.

Don't cry for me, I'm Evita – and I get to dance with Ricky Martin

Singer Ricky Martin scooped the tiny figure of Elena Roger up in his arms and gave her a big hug, backstage in her dressing room at the Marquis Theatre.

‘She’s my Eva — my one and only Eva!’ Ricky declared of Elena, who portrays Eva Peron in the hot revival of the Tim Rice-Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Evita in which he also stars, as Che.

First night: Elena Roger and Ricky Martin at the Evita Broadway opening night at the Marquis Theatre

First night: Elena Roger and Ricky Martin at the Evita Broadway opening night at the Marquis Theatre

‘We rehearsed for weeks, then went into previews, and then we opened, so we’ve been together for months now and we know each other intimately,’ said Ricky.

Elena played Eva for director Michael Grandage and choreographer Rob Ashford when Evita was revived in the West End several years ago.

‘At first, I wasn’t sure I wanted to revisit her,’ Elena admitted.

‘I’m older now, and I thought maybe I would see her differently than when I first played her.

But I realised I wanted to work with Michael and the team again.

And then they told me about Ricky Martin — who wouldn’t want to be on stage with Ricky Martin!’ she said, just as the man himself entered the room.

There’s a huge appetite for Evita in New York, which has a vast Latin American population. ‘People are still fascinated by this lady who once symbolised Argentina,’ said Elena, who has a home and family in Buenos Aires.

Evita, which is raking in money at the box office, is the second classic Rice-Lloyd Webber show to open in the city this season.

It joins the Stratford Festival Theatre production of Jesus Christ Superstar, which opened after runs in Stratford, Ontario and La Jolla, San Diego.

Watch out for…

Jeremy Jordan, who stars in the Disney stage musical Newsies, which features music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman and a book by Harvey Fierstein.

The show’s based on a Disney movie about a real-life strike in 1899 by street boy newspaper vendors, against newspaper barons.

The musical’s creative team, led by director Jeff Calhoun, have included an unlikely romance between Jordan — who plays the newsboys’ strike leader — and a reporter played Kara Lindsay, and the show’s packed with all manner of clichs. Yet it’s the most heart-warming musical I saw in New York.

Whether that had something to do with the fact that I sold the Evening Standard outside Richmond station when I was a kid, I don’t know — but Newsies moved me and cheered me.

Charismatic: Jeremy Jordan takes centre stage as Jack Kelly in the new Disney stage musical Newsies

Charismatic: Jeremy Jordan takes centre stage as Jack Kelly in the new Disney stage musical Newsies

It also has the best dance routines on Broadway. Choroegrapher Christopher Gattelli has created some marvellous balletic numbers that wouldn’t be out of place at Covent Garden.

And there’s no doubt Jordan, pictured, possesses enormous charisma. One of my colleague calls it sex appeal and I guess she’s right because after the show, scores of girls (and their mothers) milled around Jordan outside the Nederlander Theatre.

Will it work in London One problem would be the difficulty in casting the

part of Jordan although, thanks to Billy Elliott, there are now plenty of lads who can do ballet.

Tracie Bennett, who is triumphant in her portrayal of Judy Garland in Peter Quilter’s play with music, End Of The Rainbow, which won acclaim when it opened at the Belasco Theatre.

Ms Bennett gets right under Garland’s skin, and it is her portrait of the tragic star that makes the show a must-see.

Tracie will be nominated for a Tony, as will James Corden for his work in One Man, Two Governors.

The best musical race will include Newsies, Nice Work If You Can Get It, Spider Man, Once (which lots of people love, but I only like) and possibly Ghost (which I see tomorrow).

The jury’s still out on Leap Of Faith, which people are being rotten about.

My view is that there’s a good show waiting to be unearthed, if the producers stop squabbling and get down to work.