“Transcendent!” Matilda in Concert LIVE! at STNJ

Spotlight Central
Spotlight Central
Published in
7 min readApr 1, 2024

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By Spotlight Central. Photos by Love Imagery

Music and movie lovers of all ages pack the State Theatre New Jersey auditorium in New Brunswick this Friday, March 22, 2024 evening for a live-to-film performance of Matilda by the New Jersey Symphony conducted by David Newman and featuring narration by the film’s star and director Danny DeVito.

DeVito, who was born in Neptune and raised in Asbury Park, NJ, won an Emmy for his performance as Louie DePalma in TV’s Taxi, and has appeared in such films as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Romancing the Stone, Ruthless People, and Batman Returns. His production company, Jersey Films, has brought to the screen such notable films as Pulp Fiction, Get Shorty, Man on the Moon, and Erin Brockovich.

The son of Oscar-winning composer Alfred Newman, David Newman has conducted orchestras around the world and has scored more than 100 films including The Mighty Ducks, Galaxy Quest, and Ice Age; received an Academy Award nomination for Anastasia; and earned a Grammy nomination for arranging the music for Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story.

Together, DeVito and Newman have worked as director and composer on such successful motion pictures as Throw Momma from the Train, The War of the Roses, Other People’s Money, and Matilda.

As the NJ Symphony musicians warm up their instruments, Ron from Lawrenceville — who possesses an uncanny resemblance to Danny DeVito — confesses, “I’m actually here because I’m a fan of David Newman. I’ve been to many of his live-to-film concerts — I was in L.A. a month ago when he conducted the L.A. Philharmonic’s A Century of Film Music — and I’m looking forward to seeing him conduct tonight’s show. Also, I’m sitting in the front row and can’t wait to see Danny DeVito — and to see if he notices me!”

Matilda, an eight-year-old from Nutley, exclaims, “I’m excited to see this movie tonight because it’s named after me! Also, I play the violin — I started learning it in September — so getting to see the movie with a real orchestra is the best!”

Matilda’s mom, Amy, reveals, “Matilda is a book that’s very close to my heart. I used to love it as kid, and when I knew I was having a girl, the name, Matilda, was at the top of my list,” prior to adding, “Tonight is our family’s first time seeing a film with a live orchestra, and we’re really looking forward to seeing Danny DeVito here in person tonight, too.”

Amy’s husband, Brian, agrees, declaring, “I love Danny DeVito! I grew up on his movies — Throw Momma from the Train and Twins — and I heard him on a podcast recently talking about doing tonight’s performance of Matilda and saying that David Newman would be conducting, so I’m excited to be here to engage with the music along with Mr. DeVito who will narrate the story right here in front of us!”

The lights dim, and the audience stands and cheers as Danny DeVito makes his entrance announcing, “New Jersey, hey! I’m so excited to be here tonight!”

Joking, “Thanks, everyone, including all my friends at Jersey Mikes,” DeVito asserts, “I can’t wait to do this!”

DeVito — who, in addition to directing Matilda, also plays the character of Harry Wormwood in the film — introduces to the stage several additional cast members including Rhea Perlman as Zinnia Wormwood; Kiami Davael as Matilda’s bespectacled best friend, Lavender; Jaqueline Steiger as the pigtailed Amanda Thripp; Kira Spencer Hesser as older classmate Hortensia; and Mara Wilson as the child genius with the telekinetic powers, Matilda.

The crowd cheers and applauds wildly as DeVito stands on the conductor’s podium and memorializes the occasion by taking a photo of his co-stars with the audience behind them, along with a photo of the audience.

DeVito also introduces film composer/conductor David Newman. Orchestra members rise for Newman who takes his place on the podium as DeVito makes himself comfortable in an overstuffed chair and looks over his script before the film rolls and Newman begins to conduct the film’s orchestral overture.

With his iconic voice and patented Jersey accent, DeVito narrates the story of Matilda, a young girl who loves books but is belittled by her mean parents played by DeVito and Rhea Perlman, along with the evil headmistress of Crunchem Hall Elementary School, Miss Trunchbull.

In Act I of the film, Newman’s fluid conducting has the orchestra underscoring the emotion in a scene where Matilda discovers she has magical powers strong enough to shatter the family’s television set. The brass section adds dramatic effect when Trunchbull swings tiny blonde Amanda Thripp by her pigtails but, thanks to Matilda’s magical prowess, Amanda lands safely in a flower garden grasping a bouquet of daisies.

Staccato sawing of the strings, woodwind swirls, and percussive flourishes add to the drama when Trunchbull forces Matilda’s classmate, Bruce, to eat an entire chocolate cake in front of the school before the orchestra plays a triumphant theme when Bruce completes the task. Raucous cartoonish music blares after Matilda’s friend, Lavender, puts a newt into a water pitcher and it manages to attach itself to Miss Trunchbull, making her dance hilariously.

Following intermission, in Act II, the strings and woodwinds ebb and swell as Matilda emotionally connects with her kind teacher, Miss Honey. The music changes to a frantic, rumbling, and ominous cacophony of sound as, together, the pair explore and escape Truchbull’s house which at one time was Miss Honey’s childhood home.

Newman’s score greatly enhances the scene where Matilda uses her powers to retrieve Miss Honey’s beloved childhood doll from Trunchbull’s house. Likewise, a major dramatic musical episode takes in Miss Honey’s classroom when Matilda makes the chalk erasers attack Trunchbull and incites a food fight where swelling celebratory music plays as Trunchbull is run out of town by the children.

DeVito brings the movie to a close with his heartfelt narration underscored by an upbeat Newman theme that fills the theater with hope for better days as Matilda is adopted by Miss Honey. When the action is over, audience members remain in their seats listening to the orchestra play while the credits roll on the big screen and DeVito smiles as he watches on his monitor.

The crowd stands and applauds as DeVito hugs Newman and turns to the crowd to say, “We love this film so much. We applaud everyone who worked on it and, tonight, the orchestra was just spectacular!” prior to concluding, “I love New Jersey!”

As audience members make their way out of the theater, several share their thoughts about tonight’s live-to-film performance of Matilda. Declares Tricia from East Brunswick, “The orchestra was stunning, and Danny DeVito was just incredible — it was a magical night!” Her friend, Jenna from Princeton, concurs, adding, “I used to watch this movie as a child, so it was a very emotional experience for me seeing the film with a live orchestra — I loved it!”

Gregg from Tinton Falls confesses, “I was actually in tears at times being in the presence of Danny DeVito, who brought me back to my childhood.”

Adds Gregg, “Watching the film gave me goosebumps hearing the music — the emotion you feel from the orchestra — and experiencing the score played live to Danny DeVito’s narration was so special!”

Gregg’s wife, Catherine, a professional musician from Tinton Falls, agrees, explaining, “The performance was extremely interactive and all-encompassing. Being able to hear the cellos’ pizzicato, the blare of the trumpets, and the oboes and clarinets playing right in front of you, was amazing!” Insisting, “When you watch a movie at home you hear the music in the background, but when it’s performed live it’s a completely different experience where you not only hear the music but feel it,” Catherine concludes by declaring, “If you’re someone who loves Matilda as much as I do, sitting here in this amazing theater and experiencing the music and narration performed live was, honestly, transcendent!”

To learn more about the New Jersey Symphony please go to njsymphony.org. For information on future NJ Symphony performances at New Brunswick’s State Theater New Jersey — including Star Wars: Return of the Jedi on April 6, Epic Scores of John Williams and More on June 2, and Daniil Trifanov Plays Gershwin on June 6 — please click on stnj.org.

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