Meet the Directors of J-DHS School Musical “Matilda”

Photo Credit: Sadie Mahan, 2022

This year, the Jamesville-DeWitt High School Music Department is putting on “Matilda” on February 10-12, 2022. The story follows an intelligent little girl, Matilda, who is misunderstood by her family who cares more about watching television than reading books. When Matilda goes to school, she expands her knowledge and escapes into a world of reading and storytelling to discover her true potential. With this being the first live musical since the beginning of the pandemic, the show possessed its own set of challenges, along with a new sense of excitement when returning back to live theatre. The previous director, Kelsie Deyo, stepped down from her role due to maternity leave after welcoming a new baby, leaving very large shoes to be filled. This led Deyo’s good friend, Dani Ryan, to jump into the role of director after being involved with theatre for 30 years. Since Deyo also choreographed the shows, a replacement was also needed in that department. She asked J-D Class of 2016 graduate and musical alumni Chelsea Colton to fill in. And of course, the trifecta of performing skills would not be complete without vocal director, Jessina Drake, who became involved with the program in 2019 with “Guys and Dolls” after being friends with band teacher Daniel Blumenthal through graduate school and working with Deyo at H.W. Smith. This strong team of directors has poured their hearts into Matilda and cannot wait to see all of their students’ hard work come to life. 

When selecting Matilda for this year’s show, they started out with a hefty list of potentials, then narrowed it down to a top 5. Matilda was always towards the top. With the predictions of the cast that they assumed they would have, Matilda seemed like the perfect choice. Drake also explained that they knew the same show was coming this year to Syracuse Stage, allowing them to borrow props and costumes to make the story come to life. 

The rehearsal process began in November with auditions and quickly began ramping up with very individualized rehearsals by parts. As director Dani Ryan explained, “Everybody is taking things piece by piece, almost like a recipe mixed in a certain order. Now the cast gets to see all the pieces they’re not involved in.” This is after the pit band was added in this week, after practicing without the cast up until this point. In the upcoming weeks of rehearsal is when the special magic effects and additional layers come together. The rehearsal process has left the directors impressed with everyone’s high levels of preparation and commitment. Choreographer Chelsea Colton shares that her experience during auditions came full circle after being on the opposite side of the table for so many years. She now feels rewarded seeing the kids pull so much talent out of them and giving them the confidence to do it as well. 

When being asked to fill in for Deyo, Ryan said that she felt welcomed with open arms by the incredible team she is able to be working alongside including producer Jordan Berger and pit director Daniel Blumenthal, along with Colton and Drake. This made her excited to see what was in store for the upcoming musical season. Ryan also said that she is beyond proud of the cast and their hours of hard work. She loves their mutual kindness for one another and how they are nothing but supportive. In the words of her daughter Elliott, “My mom is pretty cool and I’m really proud of her for sticking with this production.”

A main part of telling any story on stage is amazing choreography, and Colton does just that. After graduating from college with a dance minor, she learned a lot about how choreography and movement can connect with one another and tell a story. She also said that she has taken influence from everyone she has worked with in the past to come up with the choreography for this show, as well as focusing on the emotions she wants the audience to feel. Colton also explains that she wants the cast to “savor every second because once it’s gone they will never get the time back.”

It is no secret that audiences around the world have missed live theatre throughout the past two years, and the cast of Matilda is adapting to keep everyone safe. Drake explains that it is a totally different world singing with masks on and it hinders a singer’s ability to have vocal stamina and breathe, but with persistence and practice, they have been able to modify their singing. She also expresses her gratitude that they have been able to proceed with rehearsals without being shut down, as that was a looming fear as cases were on the rise. For this year’s show, tickets will be general admission and the theater will be at 75% capacity. Spacing in between parties has also been requested.

All in all, Matilda will be an amazing show complete with magic and a sense of childlike fun. Purchase your tickets here at https://jdmusic.ticketleap.com/matilda/

Joanna Meskos is a junior at JD High School. This is her second year co-editing the Culture section of Rampage where she can share her love of music and entertainment.