[Featured Image: Left to right, front: Audrey Johnson (Mary Poppins), Sarah Koebuck (Mrs. Corry), and Alex Podolinksi (Bert) finish off a dress rehearsal run of Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious! Photo credit: Charity McBride]
As February wanes into March, the auditorium comes to life, and the 2018 cast of Mary Poppins will put on a show of many firsts to thrill the audience opening night.
The cast will take to the stage Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evening and a Sunday matinee.
Aside from production details which are not allowed to be disclosed until the curtain opens, this year will be the first year where two non-high school students have a role in the show. Logan Lewis, who attends Metzgar Elementary, will play Michael Banks along with Ellie Swanson, who will play his sister Jane. It will be Lewis’ very first musical.
“I think I’m like Michael at the beginning,” Lewis said of his role. “I can be a cool kid, but sometimes a very nice kid.”
Lewis spoke positively of the musical, but noted that even his schedule was “crazy,” with musical rehearsal and trombone practice back-to-back on Tuesdays.
Even at the high school, many GS students have a similar attitude about their musical schedule.
“There’s no schedule other than musical,” laughed senior Audrey Johnson, who will play Mary Poppins. “Essentially, when I’m not at rehearsal, I’m sleeping or eating.”
The name Audrey Johnson may ring a bell, as she was crowned Homecoming Queen this year. Freshman Owen Johnson (unrelated), a chimney sweep, made similar comments to Audrey.
“I usually go home, do homework, eat dinner, then come here [to rehearsal],” Owen said.
Owen and Audrey share more than a last name. They both have been in every musical they could since they were in 6th grade.
A lot of students in musical have this sort of streak. But this year, a few students found rehearsal schedule to be too challenging, and caused a stir when they quit. Three of them had roles with lines and/or singing parts. Sophomore Autumn Fink, formerly the Bird Lady, was one of them.
“Sometimes I just wanted to go home and rest,” Fink said.
According to Fink and pretty much everyone involved, preparations for this year’s show have been rigorous. The later practices are usually long and hard, but this year, the various special effects, multiple costumes per person, the presence of two fifth graders in the cast, the stage crew playing car-sized tetris with an abnormally large number of set pieces, and the show’s various dance styles all had the cast busy and the directors busier. For this reason, Production Director Mrs. Sue Glowa was unable to schedule an interview to contribute to this article.
“In middle school they would have this specific group of people go, and [they’ll] work on you the entire time,” Fink said. “I felt it was better that way.”
Audrey, who also worked on the middle school’s stage crew, felt that the middle school musical schedule was more regimented, whereas the high school’s directors have a difference in style, and prefer to “finesse it.” She considered it a minor detail.
“The costuming is really the biggest difference,” she said. “All the [middle school] costumes are hand-made, and they’re really particular about how you look. Here, they’re more concerned about sounding good rather than looking good.”
At the middle school, all the music is taken from pre-recorded tracks, so as a freshman, Owen was excited for the live music at the show. After his first night working with them, he relishes what the pit adds to the show.
“I really like that we can change the tempo and be more lenient with timings and stuff,” he said.
Owen, whose first high school musical will be this year, noted that the atmosphere is different from the middle school.
“The people here [in musical] seem more interested in the musical,” he said.
The freshman dancer’s thoughts are reflected by the number of cast members who agree it’s worth the tough schedule. The first perk that Audrey mentioned was being able to “connect with the audience,” but she also knows a lot about the value of music education, as she wrote her senior research paper on the subject.
“There’s a term called ‘transfer,’ which means when you succeed in one thing, it can help you succeed in another thing,” she said.
Actors not only need to learn how to focus onstage, but their spatial awareness needs to be refined. An actor must keep in mind the location of the audience, other actors, props, set pieces, etc. In addition to this, one run may differ from another, and adjusting usually demands critical thinking and creativity. These skills are not only vital to performing onstage, but to performing in school.
“So if you’re able to learn music or dance, it could help you in your math class, per se,” she said.
According to Audrey, musical specifically could help in a more direct way.
“It can help your English; there are words in that show that I’ve never heard before,” Audrey said.
Most musicals portray historically accurate settings, or at least some historical elements. Because they are built poetically, lyrics sometimes contain uncommon words or phrases. This is especially true in the case of Mary Poppins, which rhymes excessively with the word that made it famous (precocious, halitosis, etc.) and has plenty of British words (promenade, miffed, gasworks, lummy, etc.).
Audrey emphasized that one does not have to be musically gifted; just being “musically participant” is enough to benefit from skill transfer.
Owen also said it was good to get involved. Musical, like all student activities, is another hobby students can use in their future.
Even Fink encouraged students to participate.
“I’d just say give it a try,” she said. “If it’s something you would think you’d be interested in or you think you could become better from, then I would say to definitely give it a try. And if you don’t like it, it’s okay not to like it.”
Fink called Mary Poppins a “growing-up show,” as in it shows how the children, Jane and Michael, mature. It’s not just a show targeted at children. Mr. and Mrs. Banks go on their own emotional journey alongside the kids.
“In the beginning, Mr. Banks wants to love his family, but he’s unsure how to show it,” senior Dante Howard said of his role. “By the end, he understands how to truly love his wife and kids.”
Sophomore DeLaney Swank also commented on her character’s development, the mild Mrs. Banks.
“Winifred is caring and always tries to her best to take care of her husband and children,” Swank said. “As the show progresses, Mary Poppins and the children help Winifred realize that she has her own voice, and that she shouldn’t be afraid to use it.”
Eventually, all the characters – old and young – learn the values of life.
“Winifred is a wonderful and dynamic character that teaches an important lesson,” Swank said.
In other words, Mary Poppins is not exclusively a kids’ show.
“You can watch it as a kid and understand it,” Audrey said. “But an adult can watch it and understand it on a deeper level.”
Many of the musical kids are involved in other activities. Owen, along with a handful of other ensemble members, actively reads for WIRC, a competition that happens the Monday after opening weekend. Audrey holds the lead role but finds time for a myriad of things throughout the year. She is president of the SADD club, an SCA member, and teaches kids at her church on weekends.
Exhausted as they are, the cast overall cherishes being in Mary Poppins, and are optimistic about tackling opening night.
“Musical has been a wonderful experience, and I think there’s only one word to describe it, which is supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!” Audrey said, harkening her role.