Ben Brantley Is Mad for Matilda

Matilda the Musical opened on Thursday night.

The most memorable reviews we’ve read tend to be negative ones, those that show no mercy. A few that come to mind include: Pete Wells’s hilarious takedown of Guy Fieri’s American Kitchen & Bar, in which every sentence is a question; Ben Ratliff on the “suffocating fussiness” of the indie rock band Grizzly Bear; and Leon Wieseltier’s excoriation of the New American Haggadah in the Jewish Review of Books. (Then again, almost everything Mr. Wieseltier writes is an excoriation.)

But we don’t think we’ll soon forget Ben Brantley’s marvelous review of Matilda the Musical in today’s New York Times. It’s one of the most enthusiastic pieces of criticism we’ve read–almost frightening in how authoritatively positive it is–and the second paragraph gave us chills.

Here it is:

“Matilda the Musical,” the London import that opened on Thursday night, is the most satisfying and subversive musical ever to come out of Britain, where it was nurtured into life by the Royal Shakespeare Company. In many ways this production would seem to be an example of show business as usual: It’s inspired by a book (the children’s novel of the same name by Roald Dahl) which was turned into a movie (in 1996). And in its melding of song, dance and story it’s as classic as “Oklahoma!”

Mr. Brantley is not the kind of critic to give praise where no praise is due–no one at the Times is, as far as we can tell–and in case you don’t believe us, dig up his 2011 review of Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark, one of those negative reviews that stays with you.

Here’s a sample from that piece:

The sheer ineptitude of this show, inspired by the Spider-Man comic books, loses its shock value early. After 15 or 20 minutes, the central question you keep asking yourself is likely to change from “How can $65 million look so cheap?” to “How long before I’m out of here?”

And if you really want to go deep into the vault, check out, which we just came across today. It’s a site devoted entirely to evaluating Mr. Brantley’s reviews, so you can see–through the site’s “Ben-ometer”–how his critical mood has changed through the years.

Ben Brantley Is Mad for <em>Matilda</em>