“Matilda The Musical” cast and team members

Local cast and team members in Lyric’s upcoming production of “Matilda The Musical.” Back row, from left: Avery Smith, Ian Ferris, Jayden Choquette, Andy Whitaker and Rob O’Neil. Front row, from left: Ella O’Neil, Fiona McCormick, Rowan Williams, Linda Goodhue Fleury and Benjamin Villa.

Lyric Theatre Company was about to make magic again on the big stage with its annual spring musical.

A production of “Matilda The Musical” was about to open at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts April 2. But, as Broadway goes dark in response to the widening coronavirus, so too does Vermont’s largest community theatre company.

On March 13, Lyric announced the show would be postponed to a later, unscheduled date.

This is the first production the company has cancelled in their 46 years of operation.

“Our timeline has changed,” said Lyric Executive Director Erin Evarts, “But not our commitment to bringing incredible, collaboratively created, volunteer art to the community.”

Postposing a full-scale stage musical is no small feat.

A cast and crew of over 225 people abruptly stopped preparing and rehearsing a show that was mere weeks to opening night. Memorized pages of dialogue, scores of songs and a multitude of direction and choreography now must stay on each cast member’s mind for an unknown amount of time.

Sets, props and costume building at Lyric’s Creative Space on Green Tree Drive have become suspended in time, anticipating their time under the lights. Worthy of a play itself are the machinations necessary to not only postpone the musical, but to then await its restaging at an unknowable future date.

“They were marvelous,” Evarts said of the “Matilda” cast. “It wasn’t easy news to hear, but they took it in, understood the gravity of the situation and are anxious for our rescheduled dates to be announced. The team’s devotion to the work (the cast, the crew and our organization) is overwhelming. I’m in awe of them and they are truly leading by example.”

Avery Smith of Shelburne will perform in the ensemble of Lyric’s “Matilda” and is one of many cast members who has access to online videos for working remotely on music and choreography.

“Working on the show, any Lyric show, is such a great experience,” Smith said. “To hear it was postponed was really tough because of all the time and effort that had been put in thus far.

“Knowing that it is something to look forward to, and the family that will come back together is a nice feeling during these trying times when things are constantly changing. Even with the disappointment it posed originally, I’m excited to have something to work towards again with a community of people I care about.”

Other cast members with ties to Shelburne, Hinesburg and Charlotte include Jayden Choquette as Mr. Wormwood, Fiona McCormick as Lavender, Lucas Moran as Bruce, Ella O’Neil as Hortensia and Rowan Williams as Eric along with ensemble members Abigail Lord, Robert O’Neil and Benjamin Villa.

“All the hard work we have put in will include a new passion as we re-emerge out of isolation with energy to work together as a team,” said O’Neil, of Hinesburg.

Noting the story’s themes of resilience and courage, he added, “I think this will be the perfect show for bringing the community together as this all ends, it is the right show at the right time.”

For any actor on any stage, postponement of a production in rehearsal, let alone one that is on the verge of opening, is a challenge. Lyric’s “Matilda” ups that ante with a cast that includes 10 children, kids who may not be the same size when the curtain finally rises.

“After we announced the postponement to the cast, we had some of the younger members ask what would happen if they grew too much before the show,” recalled Evarts. “Everyone in the cast was assured that hems could be let out and we could get new shoes. Ian Ferris, the director, told the cast and crew ‘Everyone has put in so much time and energy, you will all get to share that work, even if you grow a foot.’”

“Matilda” production team members with ties to the community include Ian Ferris, artistic director; Linda Goodhue Fleury, hair and makeup designer; Lesley Graham, properties/set dressing chair; Steve Smith, sound designer and Andy Whitaker, assistant stage manager.

The “show will go on” is an adage especially true for this veteran group who premiered their first show, “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” on May 1, 1974.

Nearly 100 productions later, Lyric is known to be a community-minded group that rallies together. A feat they display annually with seasons representing the work of nearly 400 volunteers and 20,000 hours of gratis time.

“I’m reminded that what we do at Lyric is a privilege, a luxury and something that brings us joy,” remarked Evarts. “In light of all that is going on in the world, we look forward to bringing back that joy but are conscious of the bigger picture and want our community to stay healthy and at home in the interim.”

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