“Mary Poppins” is the magical summer musical which opens the 2019-20 theatrical season at the Averitt Center for the Arts on July 18-21 in the Emma Kelly Theater—and that’s just supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.
Based on P.L. Travers’ beloved book series of the same name, “Mary Poppins” became an immediate hit when it premiered as a Disney movie musical in 1964. Starring Julie Andrews in the lead role and the loveable Dick Van Dyke as her sidekick Bert and with such delightful tunes as “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” “A Spoonful of Sugar” and “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” the Disney movie has enchanted both children and adults for decades.
Forty years later, Cameron Mackintosh conceived of an enchanting stage musical that combines elements of Disney’s film with material inspired by Travers’ books.
In the musical, Bert, a jack-of-all-trades, invites us into the world of London, England in 1910 and, specifically, into the dysfunctional home of the Banks family. Jane and Michael, the young Banks children, have sent yet another nanny packing, dismissing these children as hopelessly and irrevocably spoiled and misbehaved. With a father who works constantly and a mother who is always distracted, Jane and Michael have suffered without strong caretaking forces in their lives.
Then the magical Mary Poppins flies in on the wind, bringing with her a combination of whimsy, magic and disciplined common sense to the children’s lives. Together, they go on memorable and magical adventures — and also learn the importance of a tidy nursery and of taking the medicine they need (with a spoonful of sugar, of course.) Mary Poppins’ transformational influence does not stop with the children — eventually, she also teaches the grown-ups to open up and realize that “anything can happen if you let it.”
Statesboro High School theater director and drama teacher Eddie Frazier is the director of the all-star local cast, and says it’s been a delight working on the show. Frazier directed a junior version of the show just a year ago at Statesboro High School, and enjoyed revisiting what he calls one of his favorite stories.
“We have a terrific cast ranging from adults all the way down to a few performers who are 5 and 6 years old, so it's a true community theater production. They have worked many long hours on blocking, choreography and music, and they are putting in 100 percent, so the audience is going to love it,” he said. “I'm quite fortunate to be working with a phenomenal music director, Robert Cottle. He has really gotten this cast ready musically. Also, I would be remiss if I didn't mention our choreographer, Ashley Wade. She's a former theater student of mine and has choreographed many shows for me. She has brought some very challenging choreography to this show, and it's impressive. Rehearsals are running well, and everyone seems to be enjoying the whole process. I know that I am!”
Elizabeth McCooey, who played Ariel in the Averitt’s smash summer musical “The Little Mermaid” in 2018, takes on the role of Mary Poppins in the Averitt production, which is sponsored by the Mock Law Firm of Statesboro. The recent graduate of Pinewood Christian Academy and current Theatre major at Georgia Southern University will sing and dance her way into your heart.
“Ah, Elizabeth McCooey! From the moment she auditioned, I knew she had done some character study for this role,” said Frazier. “As Mary Poppins, she demonstrates a true understanding of the character. She has been wonderful to direct. She takes direction so well, and she asks questions because she wants her performance to be perfect. To be honest, there are times when she reminds me a bit of the Julie Andrews character along with the more recent Emily Blunt character; however, she isn't emulating them. They're references for her, and then she brings her own style to the character. The audience will believe that she is ‘practically perfect in every way!’”
McCooey says that performing is her first love, and she is always eager to take every opportunity to do it — and she was especially excited to play such an iconic character.
“I thought it would be really good for me, and it would challenge me as a performer, because it’s not an easy part,” she said. “I wanted the challenge of having to capture her.”
Andrews first brought the role to life in the 1964 film, while Blunt reprised the role in “Mary Poppins Returns” last year. Both brought their own unique spin to the character, and McCooey plans to do the same. But it’s not without its challenges.
“My director would tell you I’m not mean enough,” she said, laughing. The stage version of the character is more in line with Travers’ books, and there’s less whimsy, more “short and snippy,” McCooey said.
Getting the accent just right was also a challenge, and one that she began long before her audition. McCooey says she studied the accents of both Andrews and Blunt, and has worked to make sure her accent is realistic and consistent.
Another challenge for her has been all the choreography, which requires her to sing and dance. But McCooey says she loves the challenge, and that she has been involved in dance since she was 3 years old. She often looks for roles that will provide her the opportunity to dance.
McCooey said that people who come to the show expecting the Mary Poppins from the Andrews film might be a bit surprised.
“I think they will be surprised, but not disappointed. I would even say they might be pleasantly surprised with the changes,” she said.
Joey Bielik, who was a contestant in the inaugural Statesboro Voice and played Prince Eric in “The Little Mermaid,” tackles the role of Bert, the loveable singing-and-dancing chimney sweep. Other cast members include Anastasia Brown (Winfred Banks), Hugh Henry (George Banks), Claire Kennedy (Jane Banks), Wesley Keene (Michael Banks), Christie McLendon (Mrs. Brill), Kevin Kolbe (Robertson Ay), Ashley Whittemore (Nanny Andrews), Julian Schwarz (Mrs. Corry), Tami Altman (The Bird Woman), Nichole Deal (Miss Lark), Stan Haselton (Park Keeper), Sosi Sobaje (Neleus), Lola Schwarz (Valentine), John Parcels (Admiral Boom/Bank Chairman), Matthew Walker (Policeman), John Gleissner (Von Hussler) Lee Walker (Northbrook), Sally Marie Futch (Katie Nanna), Ally Keene (Annie), Rylee Martindale-Rushing (Fannie) and Rachel Elkins (Miss Smythe).
Ensemble members are Anna Kate Williams, Sydney Whitacre Morgan, Phillip Morgan, Felicia Dunn, Sara Brooke Bradley, Kate Lanier, Bridget Henry, Isabella Colon, Thom Mortimore, Shanna Haselton, Tate Miller, Brenna Lloyd, Emily Lloyd, Kate Mock, Leah Rollins, Madison Leigh Earls, Charolette Washburn, Avery Grace Kuykendall, Anna Grace Rollins, Emma Charles Townsend, Anna Catherine Kuykendall, Allison Pickens, Paul Sobaje, Ben Sobaje, Lauren Sobaje, Ella Sobaje, Mike McLendon, Isabella Halaby, Angelica Halaby and Hadley Campbell.
Reserved seat tickets are $20 ($18 for members) and $10 for students. Show times are 7:30 p.m. on July 18-20 with a special 3 p.m. matinee on July 21.
Tickets can be purchased in the box office at the Averitt Center main gallery (open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday), by calling (912) 212-2787 or online at averittcenterforthearts.org.