Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre hosts the regional premiere of the practically perfect musical Mary Poppins, opening July 23. In part one of a three part interview series, we meet two of the young stars of Mary Poppins: Catharine Kay (Mary Poppins) and Patrick Clealand Rosé (Bert).
Diane: Please introduce yourselves to our readers.
Catharine: Originally from Round Rock, Texas, my family moved to Northern Virginia in 2004. I attended high school at Lake Braddock Secondary School.
Patrick: I’m from Edmond, Oklahoma. I am a junior BFA of Musical Theater at Shenandoah Conservatory. Most recent credits include: All Shook Up, Crazy For You, Shrek: The Musical, Chicago, and Les Misérables. Also, if you caught Spamalot earlier in the season you may remember me as the “flying nun” or the Angel in The King and I.
How did you hear about SSMT? What drew you to SSMT this summer?
Catharine: I am a recent Graduate of Shenandoah Conservatory (Class of 2013) and was fortunate enough to spend two amazing summers performing at SSMT early in my college career. After the last two summer seasons away and a full year since graduating from Shenandoah, returning for Mary Poppins feels like coming home.
Patrick: I attend school at Shenandoah Conservatory. SSMT is a great venue for training performers to get professional credits over the summer while they are studying at the school.
What drew you to Mary Poppins?
Catharine: When I saw Saving Mr. Banks in theatres this past December, I was reminded of what a profound impact the movie had on my childhood. It was incredible to think of all the generations of children this story has touched. This quote from the movie really struck a chord with me: ‘That’s what we storytellers do. We restore order with imagination. We instill hope again and again and again’. -Saving Mr Banks Being a part of this production is an opportunity to do just that in our own community.
Patrick: I think the better question is probably “What doesn’t draw you to Mary Poppins?” I grew up idolizing Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews. (I mean, is there anyone better??) I remember sitting in my living room at a very young age cracking up at the movie! It sort of became an obsession for me after that.
What drew you to wanting to play your character? What do you admire or not admire about your character?
Catharine: Mary Poppins has always been a dream role. She isn’t your typical leading lady. She doesn’t need saving. She does the saving.
Patrick: Bert is a huge dream role for me. I think what draws me to him is his lack of negativity. He is such a positive influence throughout the show. He acts as the narrator for the show and is truly Mary’s go to man!
What are your solos or ‘big numbers’ and what does the audience learn about your character when you sing these songs?
Catharine: This show is such a treat because you get all of your favorite songs from the movie as well as beautiful and new original songs. “Practically Perfect” is one of those new songs and it is a joy to perform! Mary sings it when she first meets the children. It is such a clever way to clearly introduce Mary at the top of the show.
Patrick: I think the biggest number audiences will recognize from Bert is “Step in Time”. It is the giant high energy 11 o’clock number and combines singing and dancing and even some flying! I think this number shows the audience that Bert has very few limitations!
What have been some of the challenges preparing for your role?
Catharine: Mary Poppins is such an iconic character. Finding the balance between creating my own version of Mary while still honoring the Mary Poppins of P.L. Travers’ books and Walt Disney’s movie is both necessary and challenging.
Patrick: Words. Words. Words. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious… It’s a mouthful. The dancing also must be at 100% for every number. It’s exhausting, but rewarding!
What do you love most about Mary Poppins?
Catharine: I love her certainty. As a person, and especially as a recent graduate and young actor, it is so easy to dwell on doubts and fears. Mary isn’t like that. She is capable and sure. It is a joy to spend my days wearing Mary’s armor of certainty.
Patrick: I think Bert puts it best: “Mary makes your heart so light!”
What is it about the score or the book that most moves you?
Catharine: The music is exquisite! I could gush about it for days. It is impossible to listen to “Feed the Birds” without tearing up.
Patrick: If you come and see the show you’ll understand what I mean when I say the music is its own character in the show. It is truly moving, and our orchestra is handling it beautifully!
What surprised you most about the musical of Mary Poppins compared with the movie version?
Catharine: The musical challenges you. For me, the movie is viewed through such a thick lens of nostalgia. The musical digs deeper. The characters are more flawed. We see them break down. We see them struggle.
Patrick: The musical sticks closer to P.L Travers’ vision of Mary Poppins from her books. If you are a fan of the books (which you should be because they are great!) then you’ll be surprised to find some of the characters from the books that aren’t in the movie! To name a few: Mrs. Correy, Robertson Ay, Neleus, and even Miss Andrews!
Aside from your own character and songs, what other character and songs in Mary Poppins are your favorites and why?
Catharine: The character of Neleus is such a lovely addition to the show! I love how Neleus’ father/son relationship helps Michael Banks come to realizations about his own relationship with George Banks. Plus, who doesn’t love a dancing Greek statue!
Patrick: Is it cheating to say Mary? She is practically perfect in every way! Seriously, if I was a woman and could sing that high…. Watch out! “Feed the Birds” is stunning. Wait till you see it! Mary Poppins is one of the most magical characters in literature. But what really separates her from the rest of them is that she cares SO much about the children! She just makes things happen. No questions asked! A true go getter!
What is the best advice your director and musical director gave you about shaping your performance?
Catharine: Our incredible director, Carolyn Coulson, made it very clear that we were not trying to recreate or copy another version of this show. I think that was not only exciting, but also freeing. Every single thing our music director, Dr. Thomas Albert, says is wisdom in its purest form. So, I simply cannot pick!
Patrick: I learn something new about Bert every day, but earlier on in the process Carolyn pulled me aside and warned me about labeling him human or superhuman. In the end it doesn’t really matter… He just exists and for a good reason too!
What do you want audiences to take with them after seeing Mary Poppins?
Catharine: There are so many beautiful lessons in Mary Poppins! I suppose if I have to choose, I would say don’t be afraid to ask for or accept help when you need it. I think we could all use a magical nanny to fix things in our lives. Since that’s not normally an option, we need to be brave enough to be honest in our relationships. It takes strength to be vulnerable.
Patrick: A sense of childhood. I think it’s important for everyone to stay in touch with their innermost playful child! I hope the show teaches them chase dreams without limitations or boundaries!
What are you doing next on the stage after Mary Poppins closes?
Catharine: After Mary Poppins, I am moving to New York City to continue my growth as an artist. I feel fortunate to know that as I make such a big transition in my life, I’ll have the lessons of Mary Poppins echoing in my mind – “Anything Can Happen If You Let It.”
Patrick: Hopefully you’ll see me at Shenandoah for the normal school season! We have a great one coming up! We are the collegiate premiere of American Idiot this fall! It’s the musical featuring the band Green Day’s music! We are also doing Elephant Man, Best Little Whorehouse, and The Crucible! Hopefully if you don’t make it to Mary Poppins, you can come make it out to one of Shenandoah Conservatory’s other shows! Supportive audiences are just as important as the artistic message!
Mary Poppins plays July 23-August 3, 2014 at Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre, performing at the Ohrstrom-Bryant Theatre – 1460 University Drive, in Winchester, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (540) 665-4569, or (877) 580-8025, or purchase them online.