THE SHOW THAT NEVER WENT ON
When the cast of “Matilda the Musical” gathered for rehearsal on Thursday night, March 12, absent was the star of the show, Sonora Myers, the 14-year old cast in the title role. She had fallen ill and was running a fever and her parents, Aaron and Consuelo, made the decision to keep her home that night from practice for the 2020 Schmeckfest musical. With concerns about COVID-19 mounting, Consuelo said she proceeded with an abundance of caution.
“I guess I’m a rule follower,” she told the Courier. “I was trying to be respectful and trying to keeping the rest of the cast healthy.”
While it was probably the right decision, it’s one that today carries with it some regret.
That night, the show’s director, Will Ortman, told the cast and the parents that were there that Schmeckfest was going to be postponed indefinitely and that rehearsals would be suspended until a later date. Five weeks later, the 2020 festival — and, subsequently, the 2020 production of “Matilda” — would be canceled.
While the other children got a chance to say a tearful goodbye that March 12 night, Sonora missed out.
“Knowing what I know now, if I could do it over, I maybe would have let her go,” says Consuelo. “In some ways I feel like it would have helped everybody to have her there.”
Sonora acknowledges the reality of not getting to say goodbye to her fellow cast members, but does so with remarkable grace and a “that’s the way it goes” mentality. In fact, that’s how she’s handling this entire situation — one that may mean she never gets the chance to play the role she worked so hard on. While director Will Ortman says he would like to keep the cast intact and stage “Matilda the Musical” in 2021, there’s no guarantee.
Schmeckfest does not yet have an agreement with MTI (Music Theatre International) to present “Matilda the Musical” on the dates of next year’s festival, scheduled for March 19-20 and 26-27. And even if the show does move forward in 2021, Sonora isn’t sure she would agree to play the part. After all, she was already borderline old for the role; as written, Matilda is five.
“I’ve thought a bit about it, but next year is so far away yet that it’s just so hard to know right now,” Sonora says. “If I grow any more, it’s going to make everything more difficult. If I did grow a lot, I’d probably just step down. I want to be able to do it well or not do it at all.”
Ortman makes it clear: If and when the show is presented, the title role is Sonora’s if she wants it.
“She’s definitely earned the part again if she feels comfortable with it,” says the director. “The ball really is in her court.”
Sonora and Consuelo both say they haven’t thought about it much and haven’t even really talked about it much as a family since they got word that Schmeckfest was canceled for 2020.
“I don’t think we felt ready to go there yet,” says Consuelo. “Even now, it feels too far away to think about what next year will be like — what it would be like to do it all again.”
If anybody should have reason to be down in the dumps about the uncertainty of “Matilda the Musical,” it’s Sonora. All those songs she learned and prepared in January, February and those first two weeks of March; all the blocking, all the choreography, all the memorization, could all be for naught.
Sonora was eight days away from dazzling the opening-night audience and the audiences to follow during the production’s five-night run, and — poof — everything just stopped.
“She was going to be as big a hit as Karalee Evenson was (in “Annie”) or Karen Graber was (in “The Secret Garden”),” says Ortman, who had his eye on Sonora as Matilda ever since seeing her play Young Anna in the Freeman Area Children’s Choir’s production of “Frozen Jr.” in the spring of 2019. “And who knows if she wants to be serious about stage work as an adult, but this is a meaty role to build off of.”
Sonora has maintained a positive outlook since hearing that Schmeckfest was merely postponed.
“At first, when we heard it was going to be put off until later, it wasn’t too disappointing,” she said. “I just figured it gives us some extra time for practice.”
And now, even knowing there’s a chance she’ll never play the part, she maintains a positive outlook.
“Everything was worth it,” she says. “If it would have been the middle of practices, I probably would have been way more disappointed. But I’m really glad it was just a week before (opening night), because a lot of what was so fun was the experience and the practices. The only thing that would be taken away, if I didn’t do it next year, would be show night. That’s the only thing I would miss out on, so in that sense it’s not that bad.”
Ortman agrees that Sonora got to experience what it’s like to put together a big-time show, and that’s worth a lot.
“The process is important; maybe even more so than the performance,” he says. “That’s how you become an expert over time. Not everybody strives to be a professional, but if you want to be better at your craft, the process is really important. And Sonora had a successful process; when it ends so abruptly, that’s kind of hard to hear, but it’s true.”
So what was the best part of it all, Sonora?
“Everything. I say that every time, but it’s true. It was just really fun. It’s the acting, but also the environment. I just love being with the people. Every little piece of it put together makes it perfect.”