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‘Matilda, the Musical’ to light up Island stage: Returns to school after COVID delay

Excitement is building at Shelter Island School where “Matilda, the Musical” opens tomorrow, April 28, and runs to May 1.

Originally planned for the spring of 2020, the show had to be canceled just weeks away from opening night due to the COVID-19 lockdown. Thanks to positive trends in vaccinations and lower rates of infection, the school has stayed open and rehearsals and performances could proceed.

Some of the cast members for “Matilda” were in the production two years ago and are returning to finally take the stage. “I built these sets for our intended production two years ago and was lucky enough to be able to store them and use them for this production,” said director John Kaasik.

Island artist Peter Waldner, the Reporter’s award-winning cartoonist, makes a lot of props for the plays and usually designs the posters and program cover. “Peter had made a beautifully creepy doll” for this show, Mr. Kaasik said.

Mr. Waldner said recently he’d kept the lifelike doll stored at home since the canceled production, occasionally startling a visitor who spied it lying around the house.

Part of the enjoyment of the productions for the students is the sense of community and mutual support Mr. Kaasik engenders. In rehearsals for a previous play, when urging the actors to be louder than many thought they should be, Mr. Kaasik kept his recommendations in a positive tone, pointing out who were projecting their voices well, not who fell short.

The students responded in a similar vein, giving a shout-out to their peers who did well.

Mr. Kaasik said that’s an essential quality he seeks to foster during each production. Over more than a dozen years when he and his wife, Anu, have coached these performances, he said he has encouraged the students to look out for each other and be supportive: “I tell them that negativity is the enemy of art.”

Anu and John Kaasik. (Courtesy photo)

Staying positive wasn’t always easy this year. Although school was open, it was not entirely clear even a few months ago that the show could be successfully staged, Mr. Kaasik said.

“We almost canceled,” he added. “We were all under the mask mandate and it felt silly trying to put on a musical with masks, but we stayed positive, hoping the mandate would lift. I now have an appreciation for how difficult it was to teach and learn under these circumstances.”

It’s been his practice at rehearsals to give a 10-minute lesson on musical theater, and he tried to early on this year, but gave up five minutes into it. “With all of us wearing masks, I felt as if I wasn’t reaching anyone and went home very unhappy that night,” he recalled. “That was then and now everything feels so back to normal and exciting again.”

With gatherings at school and community events beginning to ease requirements when it comes to vaccination status and mask requirements, Mr. Kaasik had more positive news: “I just found out there will be no restrictions for the show.”

Tickets can be purchased in the school lobby, through Friday, 8:15 a.m.- 2 p.m.

They can also be purchased at the box office beginning one hour before each of the shows, or call Lisa Goody, 631-749-0302, ext. 100 to reserve seats and then pick up the tickets on the night of the show.

Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students.