North students revisit 'Mary Poppins'

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Hayley Steele played the titular role in Norman North's production of "Mary Poppins." The musical was directed by North's speech and drama teacher Jim Ryan.

Norman North's latest theater production had the cast reaching for the stars.

Two weekends ago, North wrapped up its musical "Mary Poppins," a popular story of wonder, hope, dreams and never forgetting that those things exist. Students were able to jump right into a classic many of them remembered from childhood.

"I grew up loving the movie, so to be able to be Mary Poppins, who I always looked up to as a child, it was really amazing," said Hayley Steele, who played the titular role, said.

The cast and crew -- directed by speech and drama teacher Jim Ryan -- spent two months preparing and rehearsing the musical. And while much of it does match with the popular movie, the stage version includes some storylines and characters that make it more well-rounded, Anna Christian, part of the ensemble cast, said.

"I liked it. It's definitely different from the movie, in terms of the whole thing," she said. "There are different characters, and I personally like it better in the musical, because it's more interactive."

There were a range of favorite moments, as the students performed classic songs like "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" and "A Spoonful of Sugar" while taking the audience through the story of the world's most famous nanny.

But when it came to the performance, "Step In Time," the chimney-sweep scene which features arguably the most dancing and activity, was the undisputed best time.

"There was the rare chance I heard someone say 'Supercal' [was their favorite],'" said Taylor Blood, of the ensemble cast. "But definitely 'Step In Time.'"

Musicals are unique for performers, given their physical and mental demands. There's the dancing, and then performers have to still sing.

"I had to learn how to control my breathing, especially during musical numbers," ensemble cast member Marci Serrano said. "It's really hard. There's more choreography. You had to memorize more steps, timing, and you had to listen to the conductor in the music, so you would stay on track. Because once you get off of it, it's hard to get back. But once you learn it, it's pretty awesome."

And "Mary Poppins" is, of course, set in London. So performers had to adopt an accent. Jake Jackson's accent was unique, as he played the role of Von Hussler, the man whose bank loan application is rejected by George Banks.

"It was kind of Dutch-y, and slowly progressed into German," Jackson said. "At the end, I kind of ditched it and just went for an angry British man. It was a lot of fun, though. It was a fun challenge."

Even when signing, the performers had to maintain their accents. It took plenty of training and rehearsing to perfect.

"I've never sang in a British accent, so I kind of had to shift whatever it is in my throat to make that voice," said Michael Buller, who played the roll of Neleus, a statue Mary Poppins brings to life.

On top of that, Serrano said she learned more about the story from the musical than she ever did from the movie. Ryan would take the time to explain the meaning as rehearsals went along.

"I loved getting to know the meaning behind some of the songs," Serrano said. "For example, in 'Anything Can Happen,' where it's everyone on stage is singing 'If you reach for the stars, all you get are the stars.' Mr. Ryan was explaining to us the meaning behind it, and it kind of just sunk in."

And some of that could also be re-exploring a famous story after hearing it as a child the first time. The deeper storylines were more pronounced while rehearsing and performing the musical, Jackson said.

"Whenever I first watched it as a kid, I just thought it was two kids having a whacky time," he said. "I never paid attention to the dad and him struggling to maintain his family. And over the course of the musical, I learned that there's more to it. It shows how special family is and growing close to all my cast members, I started to realize that even more."

The next major production at Norman North comes in the spring. Auditions for the play "Dead Man's Cell Phone" will begin soon, the cast said.