From Bert the chimney sweep’s offstage introduction of the Bank’s stately home on London’s Cherry Tree Lane, the audience at Walkersville High School’s auditorium knows there’s magic in the air. Drama Teacher and Director Heather McFadden and student-directors Jayla Pollock and Mackenzie Wright have done a masterful job of directing a beloved yet demanding production of Mary Poppins, and they’ve gotten the most out of their large cast and crew.
Bert, played with enthusiasm and a dancer’s natural grace by Noah Patrick, helps tie the whole story together. Noah is a sophomore at Walkersville High School (WHS), but he exhibits skills far beyond a typical 10th grader.
Most folks who remember Disney’s legendary live action film recall the story of George Banks, the dour, driven and buttoned-down banker more focused on money than family, demanding order and structure while ignoring life’s simpler pleasures. Will Anderson brings a perfect level of fussiness and frustration to the role of the Banks family patriarch. His transformation through the influence of the main character is joy to behold.
Olivia Ruth is “practically perfect” as Mary Poppins. Cheerful, funny and fastidious, Olivia takes on a very demanding role and makes it her own. When Mary Poppins returns to the Banks family in Act Two, you can actually hear the joy from the audience as she flies in on her magical breeze.
The costuming is perfect, as all of the outfits we remember so fondly are lovingly recreated on the magical nanny. Costume manager Lucienne Karszen deserves credit for clothing the cast perfectly, from the Banks’ children’s outfits to the dusty dark attire of the chimney sweeps.
The Banks family is a joy to watch, from the emotional roller coaster of Winifred, played to perfection by Megan Goins, to the joyful exuberance of children Jane and Michael (Grace Boroughs and Jacob Benson). Megan Goins deserves special mention for her performance of the song “Being Mrs. Banks”, a counterpoint to Will Anderson (George Banks) singing “Good for Nothing”. Their interplay is touching, and the song perfectly conveys the emotions of two people desperate for a solution to their problems.
There is so much to like about the entire cast, but a few deserve special mention. Megan McGee portrays Miss Andrew, an evil nanny brought in to replace Mary Poppins. Her performance of “Brimstone and Treacle” is a showstopper. Kyle Secula plays the Bank Chairman with fun and energy, and Jacob Heath brings a ton of personality to both Admiral Boom and shady German business tycoon Herr Von Hussler.
Maybe the best aspect of this show is the effort of the ensemble, both singers and dancers. Lots of enthusiasm, smiles and funny interaction throughout, which elevates the big dance numbers to even greater heights. “Step in Time” itself is worth the ticket price, with tap, classical dance and acrobatics performed by what seemed like dozens of skilled performers. Credit dance captains Erin Kopit and Anna Sepanic for squeezing the best out of everyone.
As far as tech, this high school production rivals many established community theater productions. Stage Manager Emilia Lawler and her skilled deck crew move large and complex set pieces on and off, fly Mary and Bert on and off the stage, and generally make this a much more fun production thanks to their hard work. Set design, lighting and sound, all operated by students, help make the experience more memorable for the audience. A very talented pit orchestra of skilled student musicians was the perfect complement to the work onstage.
Maybe the best part of WHS’s spring production of Mary Poppins were the families filling the auditorium. As expected, proud parents, siblings and extended families cheered and clapped for the talented student performers. What was unexpected was the sing-along aspect. Children throughout the darkened auditorium sang along enthusiastically on “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” (yes, I looked it up), “Chim-chiminey,” “Spoonful of Sugar,” and “Let’s Go Fly a Kite.”
That aforementioned breeze will soon carry Mary Poppins away to transform the lives of other families in need of her special brand of magic, so go see her while you can. As Mary herself would say: “Spit-spot”!
Running Time: Two hours, with a 15 minute intermission.
Disney and Cameron Macintosh’s Mary Poppins plays through March 25, 2017 at Walkersville High School – 81 Frederick Street, in Walkersville Maryland. For tickets, visit the box office at the school before the show.