The Highland High School (HHS) Harlequins will stage “Mary Poppins” for their spring production this year. And if the run-through at a recent technical rehearsal was any indication of what to expect at the performances this Friday and Saturday, March 20 and 21, children and adults alike are going to thoroughly enjoy a lively show.
This is the seventh full-stage production that the HHS Harlequins have presented under musical director Lynda Keech, who is also director of choirs at the school. She had an easy rapport with the students at the rehearsal as they ran the show from beginning to end, timing their appearances onstage and coordinating with the lighting crew at the back of the auditorium, who were getting down their cues for when to spotlight the performers and when to go to black.
The staging of the show will especially please children in the audiences, who will enjoy getting a close-up view of the performers as they utilize the side aisles of the theater to make some of their entrances and exits. And the character of “Bert” has a clever way of showing up unexpectedly in different corners of the theater throughout the show as he moves the narrative of the story along, singing pensive renditions of “Chim Chim Cher-ee” as preludes to the action.
Sam Porter does a fine job with the role of Bert, and Summer Bugbee employs a lovely singing voice to portray a crisply efficient Mary Poppins. The two also had leads in last year’s spring production of “Footloose” at HHS, as did several others in the lead roles here. In “Mary Poppins,” Summer gets an opportunity that many girls would probably relish: she gets to tell her real-life brother Devan Bugbee what to do all throughout the show, as he plays young Michael Banks, one of the two children Mary Poppins is nanny to. Victoria Purdy plays Michael’s sister, Jane Banks.
“The nannies who come here, they don’t stay for long….”
As the drama begins, Bert sets up the initial scene at the London home of the Banks family on Cherry Tree Lane. The two children, Jane and Michael, have tormented their nanny into quitting, and it’s clear that this isn’t the first time this has happened. But the audience begins to understand at this point that the children’s behavior has more to do with a cry for attention from their strict father than from any inherent badness. George Banks, as played by Zane Sullivan, is appropriately uptight and believable as the children’s repressed father. Also excellent is Victoria Pflaum portraying Winifred Banks, George’s young wife. Pflaum’s wistful rendition of “Being Mrs. Banks,” in which a young wife struggles to make sense of her life with an emotionally distant husband, was nicely nuanced by the young actress.
The song is one written for the stage version of “Mary Poppins,” which fuses plot elements and songs from the familiar 1964 Disney movie with a few new songs and elements from the series of children’s books by P.L. Travers that served as initial inspiration for it all. The musical’s “book” was authored by Julian Fellowes, whose name is familiar these days as the creator of “Downton Abbey.”
For those who’ve seen the Disney movie enough times to be familiar with the plot twists, it’s fun to see unexpected things happen in the stage version of “Mary Poppins,” like a statue that comes to life in the park and a scene where the Banks children learn about the value of treating their toys properly. But a production of “Mary Poppins” wouldn’t be the same without the familiar songs like “A Spoonful of Sugar” written for the movie by Richard and Robert Sherman, and the Highland cast doesn’t disappoint. They do a rousing version of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” with choreography that is sure to please the kids in the audience in particular, and the ensemble should be noted for the nice harmony work they provide throughout on songs like “Feed the Birds” and “Jolly Holiday.”
The ensemble members, along with additional parts they play, are: Lynzie Hegeman (Katie Nanna/Fannie/Doll); Julianne Shaver (Mrs. Brill); David Pagano (Robertson Ay/Neleus); Lisa Jadot (Queen Victoria); Nevin Nedumthakady (Admiral Boom/Bank Chairman/Park Keeper); Sadie Mormon-Horn (Miss Smythe); Dean Riley (Northbrook); Julia Purdy (Mrs.Corry/Bird Woman); Emma Gorden (Mrs. Lark/Annie/Valentine); Ashlee Folmer (Punch); and Jamie Carlson (Miss Andrew/Von Hussler/Teddy Bear).
Elizabeth Ramsay serves as stage manager along with Dean Riley, and Shannon Fitzgerald and Lisa Jadot as assistant stage managers. Costumes, props and makeup are by Celina Mcaleer. The students volunteer their time to do behind-the-scenes work like painting sets, too, and there are many parent volunteers and community members who help out, including Paul Krystek, who has designed and built the sets for every show produced by Keech at the school.
Performances are Friday and Saturday, March 20 and 21 at 7 p.m. (Snow date is Monday, March 23 at 7 p.m.) Tickets cost $12 for adults or $10 for students and senior citizens. Children under age five are admitted free. All seats are reserved with tickets only available at the door prior to each performance. Highland High School is located at 320 Pancake Hollow Road in Highland.