Mary Poppins to swoop down on NHS stage

 Rehearsal Photo by Logan Greszler

Rehearsal Photo by Logan Greszler

Norwalk High School junior Lauren Steffanni has been drawn to Mary Poppins ever since she was little. The nanny with the magical umbrella that makes her fly is so perfect and confident, Steffanni said she could’t help but admire her.  

Soon, area residents — including, most likely, present-day little girls, will look up to Steffanni — literally. They’ll have to, since she’ll fly. And so will NHS senior Noah Little, who will play the equally mysterious Bert in the NHS production of “Mary Poppins.” A cast and crew of more than 40 will perform the show at 7 p.m. March 12, 13 and 14 as well as 3 p.m. March 15 in the performing arts center next to NHS. 

“Mary Poppins” likely will amount to the largest musical on the NHS stage since students performed “Beauty and the Beast” in 2008. There’s flying, magical special effects, the secrets to which shall remain, well, secrets, seven “really big production numbers,” in director Robyn Rogers’ words, not to mention the large cast and scenery.

NHS is one of a handful — or less — of northern Ohio schools to have grabbed the amateur production rights to this Broadway musical since they became available in October.  The musical, which contains songs not included in the 1964 movie version starring Julie Andrews as Poppins and Dick Van Dyke as Bert, had its first Broadway preview Oct. 14, 2006, opened on the Great White Way a month later and closed March 3, 2013 after 2,691 performances and 30 previews. 

The musical was nominated for multiple awards, including Outstanding Book of a Musical.

Rogers said she didn’t want to admit it at the time, but the plan was to stage Mary Poppins as last year’s spring musical. The problem was, the rights weren’t released for amateur performances. Without the rights, a company of actors cannot access the script, music and other essentials to putting on a production. In place of “Mary Poppins,” NHS performed “Willy Wonka.”

Steffanni, who said she’s seen the film many times, sees similarities between herself and the magical nanny. Steffanni has two younger sisters, Hannah, a League Elementary fourth-grader and Allie, a Main Street School fifth-grader. Steffanni said she “can be a little strict on them” in that she “doesn’t take any nonsense.” Rogers recalled a time during rehearsals when Steffanni was backstage with younger cast members. Steffanni wasn’t mean to the younger students, but “I could hear the words ‘spit-spot’ coming out of her mouth and it would have seemed very normal,” Rogers said.

In the film and the stage musical version, Poppins utters the words to get her charges moving swiftly. Judging from a recent demonstration, Steffanni appears to have mastered a British accent. Also, without any stumbling and in one breath, she’s able to say “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” backwards. It took about a week to master, Steffanni said. Try asking any spelling bee champion to spell that word. Well, in the stage musical version, the characters not only sing the full word, but spell it out in song.

Little’s also familiar with the song. “I’ve just absolutely loved everything Mary Poppins my whole life,” he said. When he was in third grade, his class did a project about future careers. Little noted he wanted to be a chimney sweep because that’s part of what the multifaceted Bert does in the show. Like Steffanni, Little said he frequently watched the movie as a child; he loved the music and dancing. Little and his character also share traits. Both are “fairly easy-going,” “pretty happy” and don’t worry about many things. Furthermore, Little said he loves to entertain people, as does Bert, who somehow, someway knows Poppins.

Neither young thespian has seen the musical stage version live. But Little said he’s watched videos of it and doesn’t anticipate having problems with speaking with a cockney accent. “It wasn’t really that hard actually,” Little said about mastering the accent some might describe as unrefined.

Rogers praised the entire cast. “They’re doing wonderful, they’re doing a fantastic job,” she said. In addition to Little and Steffanni, the cast includes junior Alyssa Tuttle as Winifred Banks, senior Philip Mersereau as George Banks, freshmen Roslyn Christian and Jordan Cotterill as the Banks children, Jane and Michael, sophomore Brandi Braker as Miss Andrew (the evil nanny counterpart to Mary Poppins) and senior Brandon Fries as Mr. Corry, who “sells” conversations.

Tickets are $8 for the March 12 performance and $8 (general reserved) ad $15 (VIP, which includes dessert and appetizers at intermission) for the March 13-15 shows. Show times are 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday.