Musical Helps Lafayette Bounce Back After COVID

By Clarisse Kim

The lights dimmed. A hush fell over the auditorium. Every person in the room knew this was a special night for Lafayette Elementary School. For the first time since the pandemic, the Lafayette Parent Teachers Association (PTA) hosted its annual spring musical.

The play’s revival was a major comeback from distance learning; for the past few years, the play was canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions, which worried the members of the PTA.

“As different programs started to go away from the school, and there weren’t any people who remembered what they were, those programs didn’t come back,” said Nicole King, a Lafayette parent and fifth-grade teacher at the school. “We’ve been lucky to have the play come back.”

Lafayette’s spring musical is entirely organized by the PTA. To keep the program going throughout multiple years, veteran crew members passed on production information to the new parents taking their place. However, the pandemic nearly prevented this transfer of knowledge from happening.

Fifth grader Cecilia Bendezu plays the role of Matilda in Lafayette’s spring musical. Photo courtesy the Lafayette Elementary School PTA.

“The kids had never seen a real play, nor did their parents,” King said. “Even the fifth graders who were starring in this year’s musical – the last play they would have seen – they would have been really young.”

However, Lafayette regained its musical footing the year after quarantine. The PTA was able to host a smaller music showcase featuring songs from “Aladdin,” “Singing in the Rain” and “The Wizard of Oz.” The production also saw a change in leadership during that year. At the end of the season, Barbara Lyon, who directed the musical for eight years, stepped down and passed on the role to Ben Bleiman.

“When we heard that Barbara was retiring, we didn’t want the musical to go away,” Bleiman said. “(Programs) died during COVID that will never come back. We knew we had to keep the musical alive.”

During her final year as director, Lyon worked closely with Bleiman to direct the small theatrical showcase.

“I’ve done a lot of theater directing, especially in college,” Bleiman said. “Even so, I learned so much from Barbara. She gave me as many notes as I could take.”

As the new director, Bleiman’s first responsibility was choosing the musical the school would perform.

“When I came across ‘Matilda,’ it was super witty and funny, and I was immediately into it,” Bleiman said.

Auditions for “Matilda” began in early November. Bleiman said he “needed a village” to help bring everything together, as an impressive collection of 123 students participated in the show.

“I was director just by name, you know,” Bleiman admits. “We had four other parents who worked as hard as I did and were just as essential as I was, if not more. I couldn’t have done it without them.”

The production crew divided into teams and led different aspects of the show. Bleiman was in charge of communicating with parents and teaching kids how to perform their songs.

Ben Bleiman, director of Lafayette’s theater group. Photo by Clarisse Kim.

“You could build a nuclear submarine with the same amount of information and spreadsheets I have,” Bleiman joked. “There was a ton of moving parts.”

After five months of rehearsals, opening night came in late March. The school hosted three public performances in March, and all three shows were an “absolute success,” according to Bleiman.

“The (auditorium) was packed; it was standing room only,” King said, “It was just a testament to how committed the parents and kids are.”

King said the revival of the school play has left a profound impact on the students. She was delighted that the program has encouraged kids to participate in the dramatic arts. Throughout production, she said the cast also learned crucial lessons like cooperation and responsibility.

Both Bleiman and King agree: One of the most important lessons the musical teaches the performers is confidence.

“Some kids were so shy,” Bleiman recalls, “but when they went on stage and (performed) and got standing ovations … that’s going to stay with them for years. When they get onstage, they have power.”

King says she appreciates that the spring musical’s return has brought the Lafayette community together. She believes bringing the musical back has helped heal the isolation caused by COVID.

“The musical has brought everyone together around one central production that everyone can feel proud of,” King said. “We’re finally coming back to being a whole school together.”

Bleiman says he is very excited about the future.

“On the last night of the musical, we were talking literally right after the performance about how excited we were for next year,” he said. “I’m talking tons of texts. We can’t wait to start working.”

Bleiman wouldn’t reveal any details. “It’s still a secret, but I know we’re going to knock it out of the park again,” he said.

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