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KCS performs “Matilda” at three performances in April

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KENT – Having fun and experiencing joy are the top goals for the young performers in Kent Center Center’s spring musical “Matilda.”

Part of the cast at Kent Center School practices a scene from ‘Matilda’ March 21 on the stage. From left, Aloise Roberti, John Davis, Seamus Dietrich, Caelyn Guarnieri, Aria Fodor, Olivia Cabrera, Everett Rost, Tristyn Cole and Kadence Parsons. Photo by Lynn Mellis Worthington

They look forward to sharing their musical theater skills in three performances April 4 and 5.

Director Heather Holohan-Guarnieri is using her own skills to ensure the middle school students have a positive experience.

“The most important things for me as an educator is that kids are having fun and that they are able to feel and express joy. Additionally, that they create something excellent and in doing something they learn something,” Holohan-Guarnieri said during a recent interview.

Director Heather Holohan-Guarnieri, right, works with the sound technicians during a rehearsal for the spring musical “Matilda” at Kent Center School. Photo by Lynn Mellis Worthington

The students are deep into their rehearsals and they are putting their all into the effort.

“I don’t have to try to motivate them. They all motivate themselves. They are all a hard-working bunch of kids,” Holohan-Guarnieri said. “We have a lot of kids who have experience with music, dance and theater experience at the school. It is surprising that for a small little school there’s quite a bit of talent in the performing arts,” the director said.

Holohan-Guarnieri is a former Broadway dancer and singer now working at the independent Kent School, where she is the director of dance, teaches private voice and choreographs the spring musical. She agreed last year to direct the KCS spring musical “Shrek.” Her daughter Caelyn, a sixth grader, alerted her that they weren’t going to be able to perform a musical because there were no adults available to direct it.

Holohan-Guarnieri stepped up to lead the production. She was previously the youth theater director at TriArts/Sharon Playhouse for almost 10 years and owned her own studio in Amenia, NY, the Studio School for Dance and Theater Arts, where she taught musical theater and voice for about 10 years.

She was pleased by how “Shrek” turned out. “It was awesome. The kids did a really fabulous job and I was super proud of all of them,” she said.

This year she selected “Matilda” for a number of reasons, including the large number of female roles.

“We have a lot of females and students who identify as female. We’re often hurting to find males and students who identify as male for the shows,” Holohan-Guarnieri said. “Matilda is a primarily female cast, with a couple of male roles. The boys that I thought were going to be coming out for the show, who were in it last year, I could really see as the characters.”

Lyra Wilder performs as Matilda during the number ‘Naughty’ during a recent practice at Kent Center School. The first performance will be April 4. Photo by Lynn Mellis Worthington

She was also looking for a show with a lot of dance opportunities and Matilda provides that. The story is adapted from the 1988 novel, “Matilda,” by Roald Dahl. The main character, Matilda Wormwood, a girl who has the gift of telekinesis, is someone who loves reading and is able to overcome a series of obstacles caused by her family and school. She ultimately helps her teacher reclaim her life.

“’Matilda’ is fun and accessible for this generation. It has a mix of hip hop and character, so I felt it would be good for the kids,” Holohan-Guarnieri said. “The music is super fun and catchy. I wanted something that was kind of modern where I’d say ‘Go practice this. Listen to these songs 100 times’ and the kids would want to do that.“

The lead performer in the ensemble cast is Lyra DiCostanzo, whose stage name is Lyra Wilder. She has many community and professional performances already on her resume.

“One of the first things she said to me last year when I met her was, ‘I want to be on Broadway. That’s my dream,’“ said  Holohan-Guarnieri. “She is incredibly passionate about what she does. When you have a kid who is so eager to learn, it definitely makes working with them super easy and very successful.”

There are many talented members of the cast, who already have experience working in area productions in Sharon and New Milford. Five students, Wilder, Caelyn Guarnieri, Aria Fodor, Alyssa Kovacs and Aloise Roberti have been taking dance lessons for some time.

Part of the cast at Kent Center School practices a scene from ‘Matilda’ March 21 on the stage under the direction of Heather Holohan-Guarnieri. Photo by Lynn Mellis Worthington

The director has been pleased with how all the middle school students have worked hard to raise their skills.

“As a teacher, it is always my philosophy that I try to treat them as if they’ve already accomplished a great thing. I put the bar really high on what they can accomplish, and I find that they always rise to the occasion. When you project that they can do great things, they do great things,” she said.

This year there will be three performances of the musical: April 4 at 1:15 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. as well as April 5 at 6:30 p.m. The school welcomes community members as well as parents at all showtimes.

Lynn Worthington
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