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Performing Arts

Exploring the state of siege called childhood

Zada Lile poses as Matilda for the poster advertising “Matilda The Musical,” opening May 6, at Merely Underground and presented by Merely Players through May 22. (Courtesy of Merely Players).
Merely Players present ‘Matilda: The Musical’

“If you’re stuck in your story and want to get out,” Matilda sings in Act I of the musical named after her. Smart, imaginative and willing to rewrite her own story even at a very early age, Matilda is a child of our times. Rewriting or reframing ourselves has become a modern trope along with cultivating resilience.

Opening May 6 and running through May 22, “Matilda The Musical” will be presented by Merely Players in the intimate performance space affectionately known as Merely Underground. That “Matilda The Musical” happens to run through Mother’s Day seems particularly appropriate.

“The show has many assets: a delightful story, incredible music, exuberant dance numbers, charming characters of all ages and a message about standing up for yourself,” said Director Mona Wood-Patterson. “It garnered 47 international awards and is still wowing audiences in London.”

“Matilda The Musical” is based on Roald Dahl’s last children’s book, published two years before the British author’s death in 1990. It’s an adult fairy tale told from a child’s point of view.

“Reading Roald Dahl’s stories is a rite of childhood,” Wood-Patterson said. “I love his unbridled imagination. He blends fantastical elements and a world of wonder.”

If you go

WHAT: “Matilda The Musical,” by Dennis Kelly, based on Roald Dahl’s book, presented by Merely Players, directed by Mona Wood-Patterson.

WHEN: 7 p.m. May 6, 7, 12, 13, 14, 19, 20, 21; and 1 p.m. May 8, 15, 21 and 22.

WHERE: Merely Underground, 789 Tech Center Drive.

ADMISSION: $25 and $35. Tickets available online at https://bit.ly/3rREXDp.

MORE INFORMATION: www.merelyplayers.org or 749-8585.

The musical’s creators, playwright Dennis Kelly and composer and lyricist Tim Minchin, have captured “Dahl’s trademark storytelling and dark whimsicality well,” Wood-Patterson said.

“Merely Players chose to do this play back in 2019, when it first became available to theater companies,” she said. “We were one of the first regional theaters to receive a license for 2020. We cast the show and began rehearsals on March 2, 2020, but on March 12, we closed our company because of the pandemic. Finally, two years later, we get to mount this show.”

Original cast and crew members were given a first right-of-refusal, Wood-Patterson said. Some were able to return, others were not.

“Also, in the interim we obtained Merely Underground, so we have redesigned this major musical with 24 scenes to work in the Underground,” she said.

Thirty cast members are supported by a creative team and crew of 20 to stage the complex musical. It’s no surprise that a professional accompaniment track has been obtained in place of a live orchestra. Musical Director Tom Kyser heads up the musical aspects of the show.

“It’s a delightful story with incredible music, exuberant dance numbers, choreographed by Dallas Padoven and charming characters of all ages,” Wood-Patterson said. “While young people play the roles of the little kids, adults play the roles of the bigger kids. Our youngest cast member is 9, and our cast/team represents every decade of age through the 70s.

“It’s sheer joy to be singing and laughing and creating a musical together again.”

Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.