There was a time, in children's entertainment, when things grew a bit sunnier, when the rough edges were sanded down, when laugh tracks grew a little bit louder, and when the lessons conveyed were strongly of the treacle-heavy sweet variety.
But kids, as grown-ups know, having been former kids themselves, rather root for the nonconformist, the child who challenges iffy circumstances, the tot with aplomb. Author Roald Dahl, he of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and "James and the Giant Peach" acclaim, rather understood this notion, masterfully.
Look to his book "Matilda," which is now "Matilda the Musical," a hugely successful West-End-to-Broadway-to-LA confection brimming with unbounded joy, naughty doings, true friendship, eyebrow-raising behaviors, and mayhem of the merriest sort.
The show's first national tour makes its official opening bow on Sunday, June 7 at The Ahmanson.
It's a show with kids and adults, for kids and adults, let's just note. Few artists understood the "everyone should enjoy this work" ideal better than Mr. Dahl. The kids like how Matilda is a fierce and pro-active little girl. And, as a matter of fact, so does everyone regardless of age. That she also possesses a few special powers -- spoiler alert? -- is the caramel sauce atop this pudding.
Without too many reveals -- you remember most of the story, yes? -- Matilda must stand up to some school-based authority, and irksome issues at home, and she does so in all sorts of sassy and strong and spirited ways, with the help of some interesting allies (and the pushback of some weird foes).
Yep, there's everything to love here, but love this, too: Music & lyrics are by the deviously hilarious comedian Tim Minchin with a lively book by Dennis Kelly.
Was Mr. Dahl's delightful message "be yourself" or "go your own path" or "rock your unique talents" or "don't stand for injustice" or..? We'll vote for all of the above. That such important themes appear in a tale about a brave girl with a stout heart makes it marvelous.