“Just because you find that life’s not fair it doesn’t mean that you just have to grin and bear it,” read the lyrics of the song Naughty from Matilda the Musical.

Life certainly did not seem fair to the cast and crew of Masquerade’s production of the musical when, on March 12, 2020, the show had to be postponed due to the coronavirus situation.

Director Anthony Bezzina recalls that “it was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make in my career but one that was inevitable given the circumstances”.

Rachel Fabri as Miss Honey and Michela Deguara as Matilda. Photo: Francesca RizzoRachel Fabri as Miss Honey and Michela Deguara as Matilda. Photo: Francesca Rizzo

Adapted from the children’s novel by Roald Dahl, with its script by Dennis Kelly and original songs by Tim Minchin, Matilda the Musical tells the story of an extraordinary little girl who, armed with a vivid imagination and a sharp mind, dares to take a stand and change her own destiny.

Since its 2010 premiere, the show has gone on to win more than 99 international awards, including 24 for best musical. Masquerade, well known for producing musicals for local audiences, easily obtained the European professional licence to stage the musical here, so the postponement was achingly disappointing.

“Back then, we really just had to grin and bear it,” Bezzina adds with a wink, as he quotes Naughty, one of the musical’s signature pieces.

Thomas Camilleri as Miss Thruchbull. Photo: Justin MamoThomas Camilleri as Miss Thruchbull. Photo: Justin Mamo

At the time of postponement, he and his production team had already started to plan new imminent dates for the production but little did they know it would be a good two years before the show would finally go on.

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the excitement backstage on dress rehearsal night was at fever pitch.

Some members of the multi-talented cast went through their final paces while others did vocal warm-ups and the considerable backstage crew was on standby to unleash the spectacle. Meanwhile, the 12-piece band tuned up under the watchful eye and attentive ear of musical director Kris Spiteri.

All this happened against Romualdo Moretti’s set design at the Mediterranean Conference Centre.

Leah Grech as Matilda. Photo: Francesca RizzoLeah Grech as Matilda. Photo: Francesca Rizzo

In the two years between the aborted opening night and the dress rehearsal, Bezzina had to contend with a number of headaches, including numerous false restarts, thanks to the ever-fluctuating COVID-19 pandemic.

Some key cast members were even sadly replaced both from the adult and children’s cohorts.

“The technical week of any production, but most especially that of a musical of this magnitude, present indescribable stress as the months of rehearsals and all the magnificent work that goes on behind the scenes come together into a cohesive whole,” Bezzina says.

Sarah Micallef and Alan Paris as Mrs and Mr Wormwood. Photo: Francesca RizzoSarah Micallef and Alan Paris as Mrs and Mr Wormwood. Photo: Francesca Rizzo

“Yet, the sense of intense pride and satisfaction that it’s finally here to present just makes it so much more special for me and the team.”

Bezzina has no doubt that Maltese audiences are in for a treat. And it is no secret that the musical has captured the hearts and minds of children and adults alike all over the world.

“Kelly and Minchin have done a remarkable job in deve­loping the scope of Dahl’s origi­nal story for a completely new medium while bringing the author’s beloved and hateable characters to life. It is full to the brim with funny and witty dialogue while Minchin’s songs are simply magical and memorable,” Bezzina adds, before being whisked away to ensure the curtain can indeed go up.

“It is a show that will highly entertain children and offer plenty for the adults to enjoy too, after all, ‘sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty!’”

Michela Caruana as Matilda and Katherine Brown as Mrs Phelps. Photo: Christine Joan Muscat AzzopardIMichela Caruana as Matilda and Katherine Brown as Mrs Phelps. Photo: Christine Joan Muscat AzzopardI

Performances continue at the Mediterranean Conference Centre, Valletta, on April 22 and 23 at 7.30pm, on April 24 at 10am and 3pm, on April 29 at 8pm and on April 30 at 3pm and 8pm. The theatre is not operating at full capacity, with four different exits and entrances and some COVID restrictions still in place. Booking is open at www.showshappening.com. More information is available at www.masquerademalta.com. This project is supported by Arts Council Malta and Visit Malta.

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