Cast members rehearse “When I Grow Up” in “Matilda.” NAN LINCOLN PHOTO

No holding back “Matilda”! It took two years, but the musical opens next weekend



By Nan Lincoln
Special to The Ellsworth American

ELLSWORTH — Two years ago, Acadia Community Theater costumer Jaylene Roths was making the final stitches on a frowzy outfit for one of the characters in “Matilda.” The Tony Award-winning musical, based on Roald Dahl’s famed book, is about a little girl who defies the lousy odds life has handed her.

Director Dani Robbins was contemplating a few changes to the choreography; music director Isabelle Bohrer was making some notes on the score, and a cast full of kids and adults was going over their dialogue, dance steps and solos for the umpteenth time, hoping they’d get it all down pat by opening night at the Criterion Theatre in Bar Harbor.

And then just a week or so before opening night, the world came to a virtual halt. Schools, businesses and theaters closed, and people were told to stay home and stay away from one another.

Now as we slowly emerge from this devastating pandemic, shows from Broadway to Budapest are reopening, including ACT’s mothballed production of “Matilda,” which is now scheduled to open for live audiences Friday, April 29, at The Grand in Ellsworth.

According to tech director Matt Hochman, ACT had hoped to stage the show at the Criterion, but by the time they decided on the performance dates, the theater was already booked.

“The Grand had the dates open, and we were happy to grab them,” Hochman says. “It’s been a while.” He also admits to being pleased to have The Grand’s more complete stage lighting to play with.

The venue change was not the only major hurdle producer Doug VanGorder has had to contend with in reviving the production. Neither director was available to helm this reboot; several lead roles had to be recast, and some of the younger cast members, who have returned to their roles have, as kids tend to do, grown.

“I was almost finished with the costuming two years ago,” says Roths, “and while it’s been great to have such a big head start for this production, it’s also a bit frustrating to be resewing and altering costumes I’d already completed.”
Nonetheless, it appears the theater gods have, at long last, smiled on this effort. Matt Cornish who has a background in musical theater, and was originally cast as Miss Agatha Trunchbull, the horrible headmistress of the school Matilda attends, was able to step up to direct, as well. Sonia Berghoff, a recent University of Maine grad (with a degree in vocal arts) has taken over as musical director as well as the role of Miss Honey, the only bright light on the teaching staff of Matilda’s school.

Berghoff is not the only professional performer who has come on board this production. Barn Arts empresario Andrew Simon joined the cast as Matilda’s ne’er-do-well dad Harry Wormwood and freelance conductor Randy Navarre will be picking up the baton for the pit orchestra.

Lucia DiLena as Matilda and Matt Cornish as the horrible headmistress, Miss Trunchbull, face off in the Acadia Community Theater’s production of “Matilda” opening Friday, April 29, at The Grand in Ellsworth. MATT HOCHMAN PHOTO

And then there’s Matilda. Much to the costumer’s delight, Ellsworth Elementary School fifth-grader Lucia DiLena, who was cast in the title role as an 8-year-old, has barely grown an inch in the past couple of years but, according to her two directors, she has made considerable growth in her already impressive singing and acting ability.

This is true of several of the young actors. Conners-Emerson student Molly Dority for instance, who plays Matilda’s hapless schoolmate, Bruce Bogtrotter, already knew how to carry a tune when she was first cast, but now she has learned how to belt it out.

Last Friday evening the cast was rehearsing one of the shows big numbers, “When I Grow Up,” at Mount Desert Island High School. As one would expect from a Tony-winning Broadway show, the music has clever lyrics and some complicated harmonies to sing, but they also are expected to bounce balls, jump rope, spin hula hoops and circle dance at the same time.

Still, despite the atrocious acoustics in the school cafeteria, their voices sounded strong and true and they all seem reasonably confident in their moves.

Matt Cornish also exuded confidence as a director, as he gave notes to some of the youngsters during a break.

“OK, don’t completely lie down here until you have finished singing the last ‘up,’ he says. “Otherwise, you look like dead people singing. We can’t have ghost singers!”

The kids all giggled and after a couple more tries, got it just right.

Anyway, it all looks and sounds as if this is going to be great fun, something most of us could use about now.

At The Grand, performances of “Matilda” are at 7 p.m. Friday-Saturday, April 29-30 and May 6-7, at 7 p.m. as well as at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 1 and May 8. Tickets cost $25 per adult, $20 per senior and $20 per student (14 and under). To reserve seats, call 667-9500 and visit www.grandonline.org.

Nan Lincoln

Nan Lincoln

The former arts editor at the Bar Harbor Times writes reviews and feature stories for The Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander.

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