Thursday, June 27, 2013

Children on Broadway: Why Being Repulsive Brats Actually Works

At this year's Tony Awards on Sunday night June 9, "Kinky Boots" won it all with Best Musical, but it's obvious who the true winners are: the kids.

And it's just as well too, since everybody on Twitter claimed that "Matilda the Musical" had been robbed of the ultimate victory.

There are a lot of child cast members on Broadway lately, with "Annie", "Matilda", and soon "A Christmas Story". And every single one is extremely talented. Please keep in mind as you read this that I am not talking about the child actors themselves, but rather the children they portray.

I was never a huge fan of children in shows. They're supposed to the adorable character everyone is supposed to fawn over, but in reality they're only annoying, repulsive little brats. These kinds of characters exist everywhere. The next time you watch a sitcom, especially those consisting of family units with children, check out the younger/youngest kid. Chances are this kid is the most intelligent, smart-aleck of the litter, and we can't even loathe the kid entirely because he or she is there to charm the audience with his or her one-liners. This happens EVERY. TIME.

This is no different from Broadway musicals, apparently.

Let's check out the cast of "Matilda" Tony Awards performance. First, Matilda has a solo, because why not, the musical is named after her. Then the conclusion of her piece launches QUITE POSSIBLY THE COOLEST CHOREOGRAPHY I HAVE EVER SEEN CHILDREN PERFORM ONSTAGE. Just check out how talented and repulsive they are during the "Revolting Children" number!

It's not just the choreography, but the fact that the kids bring such vibrant youthfulness to it! Normally when little kids dance to choreography, they either look like dolls or robots, simply because their bodies haven't fully developed yet or they have low attention spans. It's never as perfect as this and they look like they are having a blast doing it. I sometimes can't believe that I am watching kids dance.

Then after a few more musical numbers and award acceptances, the cast of "Annie" gets their chance to shine. And of course, they perform that well-known hit, "It's a Hard Knock Life". Before I get into it, let me briefly go off course. What exactly is a hard knock life? This has bothered me since I was a kid. What does the word "knock" have to do with anything? Is this an expression that I am not entirely familiar with?

Anyway, back to the children. Here is the "Annie" Tony Awards cast performance.

I have to admit that the entire time I was watching this I could not stop comparing these kids to those from "Matilda" and immediately became bored with the "Annie" cast. The choreography isn't even as effective. I felt/feel bad because, you know, I'm judging kids! And it's not really fair because "Annie" and "Matilda" are two different musicals that utilize different techniques. But hey, they are subject to the critiques of theater critics, and I am a theater critic, so I am just doing my job.

I feel like I'm not the only one bored by the "Annie" segment either. The only time the performance got any excited reaction out of the audience, and myself, is when Jane Lynch as Miss Hannigan entered the scene. Now as awesome as Jane Lynch is, the fact the she upstages the kid who plays Annie says something not entirely great.

So why is this? Why does the cast of "Matilda" upstage the cast of "Annie" so much? Is it fair to say that a new musical triumphs over a legendary classic?

The only thing these two musicals seem to have in common is that they are named after a little girl, its main character, and the plots have something to do with escaping the clutches of a villainous old woman. They also both have their own books and movies, but for right now I am going to just focus on the musicals on their own. Disclaimer: I have not seen either one of these productions live nor I am completely familiar with the stories entirely. I am going by the Tony performances.

"Annie" is a revival whereas "Matilda" is a brand new musical. "Annie" is a classic and although her story and musical hits are memorable, they might also be stale to audiences for those reasons. Kind of "Been there, done that." "Matilda", on the other hand, fresher to audiences considering it is new, represents the evolution of musical theater, showcasing the rock opera genre which is now more the norm. It was also nominated for I believe 12 Tonys and has also won other awards. Ben Brantley, The New York Times chief theater critic, gave it a good review. This musical is really going places and "Annie" already had its moment, so perhaps this is why "Matilda" stole our redheaded friend's spotlight.

It's also possible that the kids of "Matilda" stole the spotlight for being intentionally irritating. As talented as the performers are, the kid characters from "Matilda" can come off as a little annoying during their "Revolting Children" number, going back to my repulsive point. They scream their lines in a very cringe-worthy way, their hair is very unkempt, and not to mention the dull colored uniforms they wear. Of course, this is the design for the characters, and their design is a total contrast to the kids in "Annie". Just look at how perfect Annie's curls are! Not one curl out of place. What about the other ones? Such sweet little girls!

All of these youngsters are designed like this for a reason. Besides the fact that these are probably the original character designs, it is also to manipulate our minds.

Not only is the music more modernized in "Matilda" than it is in "Annie", the kids are more modernized as well and represent the evolution of child portrayal in artistic mediums. This makes sense because Roald Dahl's book was published in 1988 and the movie and musical came out more recently than the significantly older "Annie". "Matilda", therefore, portrays children we are more likely to run into today. The 1930s girls of "Annie" are reserved whereas the children of "Matilda" are the exact opposite of that.

During "A Hard Knock Life" we have a bunch of little girls complaining about their current situation whereas in "Revolting Children" the kids see their situation, say "screw you!" to authority, and seek to change things now that they have the power. This could symbolize how the lower class can impressively defeat the upper class, or it can represent something much more familiar, which is when a spoiled child once again prevails over his or her parents.

Now, from my brief research of the storylines, Annie tries to escape and fails before "It's a Hard Knock Life" and the "Matilda" kids perform "Revolting Chidren" after the authority of their school is overthrown. Therefore, I can't really say that the "Annie" children do absolutely nothing and the "Matilda" children do everything to accomplish their goals, but these musical numbers contrast the two groups of kids and their attitudes so much. The "Matilda" kids don't have to have to look cute like the girls from "Annie" because audiences admire their passion instead, no matter how bratty they come across. Because the kids are so repulsive and perhaps even kind of frightening, audiences decide to just sit back and anticipate what nastiness they will produce. Audiences know that they don't need us to hold their hands because they already have enough strength and intelligence to pull off their mutiny. Plus we don't want to get anywhere near them because they are, you know, repulsive. They make these kids "unattractive" because they want audiences to see their other qualities and perhaps even portray them as villainous as well. That old stereotype that if characters look evil, they must be evil. With "Annie", however, they draw us in with pretty little girls that want a better life and need our help. They are endearing and this makes audiences sympathize with them, wanting to hold their hands and travel the journey to freedom with them. Either way, we root for the kids.

Also, as opposed to "Annie", there are also little boys in "Matilda".

As much as we don't like to admit it, little girls are still perceived as little delicate flowers that we must protect, so therefore having boys there is another reason why the cast of "Annie" might be considered "weaker" than that of "Matilda". Then again, the little girls of "Matilda" don't appear as sweet and delicate as the ones from "Annie". Because "Matilda" is the more modern story of the two, it has stronger little girl characters and these strong little girls team up with strong little boys to smash the oppressive authority. Therefore, "Matilda" can be considered a more feminist musical.

You saw that coming, didn't ya? ;)

This whole idea about repulsive little kids being smart goes back to my argument about repulsive little kids in sitcoms and perhaps other shows for that matter. We often see the younger sibling outsmarting the older, dumber sibling. Normally the younger kids are smarter than the older ones or even the adults. There are times maybe these kids would teach their older peers a thing or two. These kids are normally the ones that add to the plot, and perhaps even save the day and outsmart the bad guy, so therefore no matter how annoying they are, they are needed. The same thing seems to go with kids in musicals, particularly the ones from "Matilda". For some reason, there are often instances where we see children, or those characters held at a childish level, "stick it to the man." Or in their cases, "WOman." This idea dates back to early drama because I recall this being discussed in one of my MSU English drama classes.

This all being said, why doesn't "Madeline" get her own Broadway musical? Like Annie and Matilda, she has her own book series, movie, but even her own cartoon series! Is this supposed to suffice? Does cartoon series equal a musical on Broadway? I think not!

She probably doesn't have one because like "Annie" she is more old-fashioned, living in a reserved all girl cast, and now maybe people are more drawn to modern co-ed casts like that of "Matilda". However, like the cast of "Matilda", Madeline is fearless and headstrong, constantly getting into trouble and disobeying Miss Clavell. Miss Clavell, however, as opposed to to Miss Hannigan and Miss Trunchwell of "Annie" and "Matilda", is a doting guardian to her kids.

Madeline lives in France, has a nun for a teacher and mother figure, hangs out with the Spanish kid next door, and EVEN GOT HER APPENDIX SURGICALLY REMOVED, for crying out loud! You never see that! How do she NOT have a Broadway musical?

And, most importantly, she is the perfect combination of cute little girl and repulsive little brat. :)


  1. i loathe little brats u_u but a "a hard knocks life" i think refers to the school of hard knocks or harsh lessons that are experienced directly by the children.

    1. Oh I know. I was mainly referring to the Matilda kids as repulsive brats. lol


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