A teen ballerina who missed out on playing the lead role in the musical Matilda due to the pandemic says she is delighted to be back on stage, despite no longer being able to star in the show.

Two years ago, then aged 11, Claudia Santamaria achieved her dream to star in the title role of Masquerade’s staging of Matilda the Musical. By accepting to play the part in the musical based on Roald Dahl’s book, she gave up on another big opportunity.

In 2020, Claudia became the first Maltese ballerina to qualify for the prestigious Youth America Grand Prix finals, an international student ballet competition.

But the date of the finals in New York clashed with the original dates for the Malta staging of Matilda. Claudia was faced with the difficult decision of having to choose. Despite all her hard work and non-stop training, she chose Matilda.

But, as the COVID-19 pandemic saw most of the entertainment industry unable to operate for two years, Matilda was postponed twice as tight restrictions made it practically impossible to stage a performance of that scale.

As the production began gearing up to finally take the stage this month, there was another spoke in the wheels... now aged 13, she has grown too tall to star in the role.

“Two years ago, when COVID hit and we went into lockdown, I had the hope, just like everyone else, that in a few weeks everything would be over,” she told Times of Malta.

“The show was scheduled to premiere in April 2020 and a lot of work had gone into it. Back then my height was just about in the limit but just about right – 1.35 metres.

“Matilda is supposed to be the tiniest girl in the class.

“A few weeks turned into a few months and a few months turned to years. Throughout this time, I knew I was growing, 1.40, 1.50 but, as we all do, I didn’t want to give up hope.

“Matilda was postponed, again and then again. I didn’t want to grow anymore. When the time finally came, I was 1.60, I had totally outgrown the role. I was devastated... I just did not want to accept it.”

Despite her crushing disappointment, with the support of director Anthony Bezzina, Claudia still decided to join the cast of Matilda in a secondary role, reasoning that she should “count her blessings” at being able to be back on stage.

“I knew it would be very painful for me to be onstage not being able to perform my dream role. It took me a long time to decide but, in the end, I decided to give it a shot, to be part of this amazing play no matter what,” she said.

The musical started a run at the Mediterranean Conference Centre at the weekend.

“Many people have lost a lot during this pandemic and it is important to count one’s blessings,” she said.

“I have been blessed with another chance to be part of the cast, to rehearse with my friends, to enjoy theatre, to be part of an incredible team that has also suffered many disappointments these last couple of years.

“And, honestly, despite all that has happened, Matilda has finally become a reality thanks to everyone’s hard work, that is what really matters.

“Somehow, I have come to learn that roles might be secondary but they are never minor and I am thankful for all I have learnt about theatre and about myself.”

Having started ballet at four years old, Claudia is in dance classes daily from Monday to Saturday while also attending acting, singing and musical theatre lessons. Despite living and breathing theatre, she still finds time to catch up with her schoolwork and have fun with friends. 

“Honestly, if days were 30 hours long, I would fill those hours with more activities,” she said.

“At school, I concentrate on my subjects, time is always tight but there is time for everything if you want to find it.

“When it’s break time, I hang out with my friends.

“I am quite an extrovert and love being around people. I always manage to cope with everything and do what I love.”

Claudia says being on stage is ultimately where her heart lies and she sees the ability to enrapture people in performance as a “superpower”.

“What draws me so much to performing on a stage is that,  through doing what I love most, I can make people laugh and cry. Having the ability to make people have different emotions feels like a super power to me,” she said.

“But, most certainly, I love making myself feel what the character feels, it’s like living many different lives. It is amazing how all characters have a bit of you and all characters leave a bit of themselves in you.”

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