“Matilda Jr” from the Breckenridge Backstage Theater. finally arrives on stage
If there’s one thing actors know how to do, it’s how to adapt. Scripts, scenes, sets, movements, costumes and other elements change frequently as the production is refined. The Breckenridge Backstage Theater is all too used to adapting during the coronavirus pandemic. A children’s musical that she had in the works since 2019 finally arrived on stage on Thursday, August 26.
Auditions for “Matilda” were originally held in December 2019 with rehearsals in February 2020 for the Spring Show at the Riverwalk Center. The pandemic pushed it back to August 2020 and then to April 2021 before the show opens at the Breckenridge Theater in August.
Part of the move to a smaller room is due to the smaller cast and COVID-19 precautions. Because it is performed entirely by actors entering Grades 4 through 12, masks are required for all participants inside the theater.
Yet the change also allows the Student Theater Enrichment Program team to make it a high-energy show.
“It’s not always about the big sets and the big costumes and things like that,” said co-director Abbey Austin-Guadagnoli. “We really focus on the heart of the story and try to communicate that as best we can with the audience.”
Based on Roald Dahl’s book, the musical is about how titular schoolgirl Matilda uses her mind – and psychokinetic powers – to save herself and her classmates from evil headmistress Miss Trunchbull. He went to Broadway in 2013 and Austin-Guadagnoli said the music is more modern than classic productions.
“If you don’t like musical theater because you don’t like show tunes, then you’ll be fine to come and see this show,” Austin-Guadagnoli said.
Austin-Guadagnoli, who has worked with Backstage Theater as a choreographer and performer since 2014, joined co-director Lenore Giardina after Nathan Autrey’s resignation in 2020. The couple inherited the cast and did their best to keep people with the same roles. , but some actors have moved on from the role, graduated, or had scheduling conflicts with the new date. Of the total of 25 children, Austin-Guadagnoli said 15 were chosen in 2019 while 10 were new to production.
“Matilda” was eventually replaced by “Matilda Jr.”, suitable for children. scenario of one act without intermission and lasting 90 minutes. After the cast again, rehearsals began with an intensive week of choreography, blocking and learning music similar to summer shows. Giardina said they try to treat the enrichment program as professional work for the children as much as possible.
The duo both appreciate the company’s focus on community in its programming, and that’s why they continue to work with Backstage Theater.
“I think that makes the shows really unique,” Austin-Guadagnoli said. “It’s really fun to watch a show and your doctor is on stage, your dance teacher is on stage, or that guy working at the bank. My favorite part of the organization is their commitment to the community. They are obviously engaged in the community by offering programs like the (enrichment program).
It’s not the first time they’ve worked together either. In addition to co-performing in other ensembles, Giardina has been the musical director with Austin-Guadagnoli – who is also the assistant director at the Alpine Dance Academy – for three enrichment shows: “The Little Mermaid”, “The Lion King” and “Mary Poppins.”
“We work very well together,” said Giardina. “We’re a good team, a yin and yang of achievement in a way. We’re almost always on the same page, which is good.
Two cast members also have a connection to “The Little Mermaid”. It was the first performance that 16-year-old Mikaela Clark did with Backstage Theater in 2016, and she has done every enrichment show since. The rising senior from Summit Cove has been acting since fifth grade and has held onto it because of the relationships she has established.
She plans to stay in the industry and is applying for a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theater at schools such as New York University, Boston University, and Elon University. Her favorite aspect is vocals, and she especially loves her jazzy number “The Smell of Rebellion”.
Clark hardly sang this song, as she was first chosen to play Matilda’s sympathetic teacher, Miss Honey. Clark had to change roles when the previous actor graduated and left for college.
“Trunchbull is like the complete antithesis of Miss Honey,” Clark said. “I went through and learned a different version of the script as a brand new character looking at completely different characterizations for the same show, which was really unique and I’ve never had the opportunity to do this before.”
“The Little Mermaid” also happens to be the first behind-the-scenes play from 14-year-old Saskia Martin-Williams, which inspired her to audition for “The Lion King”.
“I love it,” Martin-Williams said of the acting. “Since I did, it’s my favorite thing to do. It’s such a good environment, I feel.
His favorite part of “The Lion King” was the fact that he used a full set with various characters coming and going throughout the musical.
“I thought it was cool that everyone was really involved,” said Martin-Williams. “Even though you didn’t have a named role or speaking part, you were there anyway.”
Breckenridge’s rising rookie has been playing Matilda since 2019. Although she’s older than the role, the most difficult adjustment has been the change of storyline. She was so used to the previous lines that she found herself going back and forth between the two versions. However, she also liked how the new script was easier to remember.
Whatever the challenges, everyone is delighted that the show is finally presented on stage in front of a live audience. Giardina likes to be able to express her passion for the theater once again.
“The fact that we all did without it, it was really hard and it was really hard for these kids, and it was really hard for people like me who make this as their job and their life.”
Clark struggled to train and stay motivated amid the cancellations.
“I’m glad I kept working on it, and I’m really glad I had a light at the end of the tunnel because I knew this show was going to happen at some point, someday,” Clark said. “I’m really glad we can finally get this show, and we can finally do it after years of waiting.”