A community theater organization in Vermont is putting the finishing touches on its latest production, demonstrating the arts community’s determination and personal touch throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It’s really going to be incredible to be up there, and how it was supposed to be," performer Harley Everitt, 10, said of Lyric Theatre Company’s upcoming performances of Matilda the Musical.
The production was supposed to be staged at the Flynn in downtown Burlington two years ago. However, just weeks ahead of opening night, COVID-19 shutdowns in March 2020 pressed pause on everything.
The nonprofit feared the kids in the cast could lose a lifelong memory of performing in front of thousands in-person at the Flynn.
"To have that pulled away for a little while has been, I’m sure, devastating," noted Erin Evarts, the executive director of Lyric Theatre Company. "And to be able to come back with it and be able to do it when you’re a little bit older, when you know a little bit more, and probably have it have a little more meaning, that’s very exciting as well."
With time and vaccines, the comedy adapted from a popular Roald Dahl book was rescheduled for this April, leaving a big decision for the organization.
While there were conversations about whether to re-cast certain roles, Lyric chose to keep all the kids from the 2020 cast onboard for 2022 — each and every one of them.
"I didn’t want to crush that dream for them," said Ian Ferris, the director of Lyric’s take on Matilda the Musical.
Phoebe Raphael, 13, still has the title role. Matilda just looks more grown-up today compared to 2020.
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"That was really special for me," Raphael said of how Lyric held the role for her. "I think it’s going to be so refreshing and great to be able to actually do this thing that we started two years ago."
Asa Baker-Rouse, 15, said he had an eight inch growth spurt since the start of the pandemic, which meant he can no longer pass as an elementary schooler in the cast.
"I didn’t fit in the little kids’ ensemble," Baker-Rouse said in an interview when NECN attended a recent rehearsal.
Baker-Rouse said he was grateful the theater group found a place for him in a different onstage ensemble.
"Lyric is definitely a community organization and there’s definitely a family there," Baker-Rouse said. "And I think they just really want to cultivate that family and keep that family together."
There were some advantages to keeping the children’s cast intact, Ferris pointed out.
"They grew in size, but they also grew in experience," the director explained. "And so we’re getting even better performances out of them than we were getting two years ago."
For Lyric, getting to present Matilda the Musical — even two years later — proves the show really does go on. COVID could delay but not defeat joy, the organization said.
“We’re slowly but surely coming back to a little bit of normal,” Ferris told NECN. “Which I think everybody needs.”