BG aims for stars with ‘Mary Poppins'
Written by DAVID DUPONT Sentinel Arts & Entertainment Editor
Wednesday, 23 April 2014 10:13
Bowling Green High School will bring a star-studded production of "Mary Poppins" to the Bowling Green Performing Arts Center stage this weekend.
|Sarah Kerr, who plays Jane Banks, and Ethan Brown, who plays her brother Michael, practice “flying” during a rehearsal for the Bowling Green High School production of “Mary Poppins.” (Photo: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
The high school is not importing any big-name talent, though the title role is being played by Abby Paskvan, Bowling Green's own gospel recording artist.
The magical nanny Mary Poppins comes from the stars, explained director Jo Beth Gonzalez, and those stars shine a light on aspects of the character not seen in the Disney hit movie.
"One of the things that make this production different is there's a lot of references ... to some cosmic place from which she came," said director Gonzalez. "There's even a number 'Anything Can Happen' that takes place in the heavens."
Bowling Green is one of four high schools nationwide staging a pilot version of "Mary Poppins" for high schools.
"Mary Poppins" is on stage Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets are $12 and $10 for students and senior citizens.
This Broadway version of "Mary Poppins" diverges from the 1964 Disney film in several aspects, Gonzalez said.
As those who saw the film "Saving Mr. Banks" know, P.L. Travers, the author of the original book, was displeased by the American company's handling of her story - so displeased she wanted no Americans involved in primary roles in turning the book into a musical. Once the show opened 10 years ago on London's West End, her son gave it his seal of approval.
The cast, Paskvan said, read selections from the original book as they were starting rehearsals.
"We realized how different she was," she said. "In the movie she's very glamorous and prim and proper. In this she's that, but more about teaching the kids lessons."
Her character, Paskvan said, "is very witty and confident about herself ... and a little vain."
Mary Poppins "is less sweet," the director said. In one sequence, she brings the toys the children have abused to life to confront their tormentors. "It's a little scary."
Gonzalez said all the "golden gems" from the movie are still there - "Jolly Holiday," "Step in Time," "A Spoonful of Sugar."
In addition, "there are some beautiful new numbers that will surprise them and help tell this story," Gonzalez said.
Bowling Green got its shot at piloting the show because Gonzalez met officials from Disney's theatrical division at last summer's conference of the American Alliance for Theatre and Education - Gonzalez is the association's president. She talked to the head of Disney Theatricals and mentioned the school had done "Aida" and "Beauty and the Beast," and he suggested they could pilot "Mary Poppins."
As a pilot production, the Bowling Green cast and crew are expected to give feedback about what needed to be "tweaked" to make the show more appropriate to students performers.
So far, the biggest issue has been the vocal range, said Adam Landry, who is directing the singers.
"The ranges are extreme," he said. "They are Broadway ranges that don't apply to high school."
The lead part has Paskvan going from the lowest notes to some "ridiculously high notes."
Landry said he's done some judicious rearranging of chorus parts, including having altos sing tenor parts.
The aim, Paskvan said, is "to make it sound pretty."
The orchestrations are also difficult, Gonzalez said. Orchestra director Shawn Hudson told her they were as difficult as "West Side Story," and in parts even harder.
The choreography has also been a challenge. Given there have been so few productions, Gonzalez said, the production team studied YouTube videos from Broadway and they traveled to Chicago to see a live touring production to get ideas.
The Broadway show uses choreography in place of the animation used in the movies, Gonzalez said. For schools that usually do a lot of choreography, this "is not a big step."
"For us it's an opportunity to include more dance than we've included before," she said. Deb Tell is handling most of the choreography, with Bob Marzola doing "Step in Time."
The production also represents another step in using the full capabilities of the performing arts center. "We're growing into it still," she said. "Our backstage crew is almost as big as our cast."
The challenges of show also require more of the performers.
"These kids need to push their energy throughout the entire show," the director said. "They burn a lot of calories."
Last Updated on Thursday, 24 April 2014 12:03