‘Matilda’, the long-delayed wait for the Lyric Theater show is over, older, wiser

SOUTH BURLINGTON — Two years after its spring production was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Lyric Theater is ready to return to the stage with the same show it planned to produce in 2020, “Matilda the Musical.”

The community theater company can even use the same sets, props, and most actors it had in place then. It’s as if the series based on Roald Dahl’s book was simply put on hiatus for two years.

One thing that didn’t stop, however, was Ella O’Neil’s growth spurt. She was afraid that she had aged out of her role as Hortensia, one of Matilda’s classmates.

“I’ve grown 6 inches in the last two years and look so much older than me,” said Ella, who is 13 and lives in Hinesburg. Then she attended rehearsals for “Matilda” and realized that most of her fellow young performers had also grown up.

As the theater reemerges after two largely bleak years, it does so in part with “the show must go on” confidence, but also with a nagging uncertainty left over from such a long time when the show simply couldn’t go on.

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Ella’s cousin and “Matilda” cast member, Molly O’Neil, said during rehearsals last week that she was worried the musical might hit the stage before opening night on Thursday. She fears that something will go wrong by then.

“Is this show cursed?” asked Molly, who is 11 and lives in Richmond. “I’m just scared.”

Go through ‘hell or high water’

Lyric had just completed a full two-act rehearsal of “Matilda” at its South Burlington headquarters when production halted in March 2020. “We were pretty advanced,” recalled Merrill Cameron, who plays the teacher of Matilda, Miss Honey.

Molly, then 9, hadn’t heard much about COVID and didn’t think the virus would be a big thing. “I was just like ‘Why?’ and I was a little confused” when the rehearsals stopped, she said.

Ella didn’t realize how big the virus was until she saw a cast member get into her car and say, “‘Matilda’ is over.” The cast and crew were crying. Suddenly, Ella said she felt like “Matilda” would never happen.

Lyric, however, swore it would. “We’ll do this show,” Cameron, who lives in Hinesburg, recalled telling Lyric execs.

“I may have used the phrase ‘hell or flood,'” Lyric General Manager Erin Evarts said, “and we’ve been through both.”

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Back to the Flynn

The cast — high school performers and young performers make up nearly half of the 32-actor roster — came back almost in full force to begin rehearsals in early 2022. Evarts said all young performers have returned to the roles that they had originally chosen. except for one cast member who grew 8 inches and grew old in one of the “big kid roles”. A handful of adults left because of “new life experiences”, according to Evarts.

Rebooting “Matilda” was easy in some ways, with the props, sets, and cast already part of rehearsals two years ago. In some ways, however, this round was more difficult, as Lyric executives had to make sure cast and crew wore masks and brought proof of vaccinations for rehearsals. (Evarts said performers won’t be wearing masks while “Matilda the Musical” airs.)

The lengthy layoff didn’t hurt the quality of the production, according to cast members. On the contrary, they say, the delay made the show better. “I feel like I’ve built up a lot more energy” during the time I’ve been away for the past two years, Ella O’Neil said.

Molly O’Neil said she’s spent the past two years sinking deep into her role as Alice, Matilda’s classmate, reworking the show in her mind many times. Despite her apprehension about whether the show will actually take place this week, Molly feels ready for the show at the Flynn to go on.

“If I play in front of the public, my nervousness goes away,” Molly said. “Finally the curtain is open, and finally we can bring this wonderful production to the stage.”

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If you are going to

WHAT: “Matilda the Musical” by Lyric Theater

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday April 7-Saturday April 9; 1 p.m. Saturday, April 9-Sunday, April 10; 6 p.m. Sunday, April 10.

OR: The Flynn, Burlington

INFORMATION: $19-$44. www.lyrictheatrevt.org

Contact Brent Hallenbeck at bhallenbeck@freepressmedia.com. Follow Brent on Twitter at www.twitter.com/BrentHallenbeck.