John Kaasik has directed many successful Shelter Island school musicals, so of course he has a definite opinion about when to start practicing the elaborate dance routines that are a hallmark of his shows.
“We concentrate on the dancers early,” John said. “In “Matilda,” some of these are really complicated routines — more difficult than usual.”
So at 7 p.m. on a cold, dark weeknight in late January, the entire cast of “Matilda” was packed on the school stage like rush hour commuters trying to push onto an uptown train out of Grand Central. Choreographer Laura Dickerson had just demonstrated the series of dance moves the cast were meant to execute, when John offered a cautionary note before they tried out the routine. “If anyone feels like it’s going to hurt, don’t do it,” he said.
Two did not do it.
Instead, John suggested the actors sneak out of the scene, only to be caught by the evil Trunchbull as they tried to escape, a bit of innovation that was not in the script, but should be.
Meanwhile, Laura and John were more than satisfied with what they saw, and after a few minor adjustments, the director asked the whole first row to move up 6 inches, prompting Laura to warn, “We don’t want Tyler to fall off the stage.”
“That’s debatable!” someone in the back row yelled, to much general merriment.
The cast went through the moves again, and, this time, off came the sweatshirts printed with “Vassar” and “Shelter Island.” Warm-ups were over.