Commentary | ‘Mary Poppins’ proves theater musicals in the Wenatchee Valley are magical

 

Mary Poppins (played by Stephanie Wilson) and Bert (played Jeff Heminger) lead the ensemble dancing in the scene "In Jolly Holiday" in the musical "Mary Poppins." It is in this scene that Bert advises the audience that whenever Mary Poppins is leading the children into the park she has a plan and it involves magic for a wonderful experience. (Provided photo/John Porter)

Mary Poppins (played by Stephanie Wilson) and Bert (played Jeff Heminger) lead the ensemble dancing in the scene “In Jolly Holiday” in the musical “Mary Poppins.” It is in this scene that Bert advises the audience that whenever Mary Poppins is leading the children into the park she has a plan and it involves magic for a wonderful experience. (Provided photo/John Porter)

 

By Jim Russell
Empire Press Correspondent

Music Theatre of Wenatchee (MTW) staged the family classic “Mary Poppins” as its Apple Blossom Festival production this year. The musical ran May 4-8 and 11-14 at the Numerica Performing Arts Center.

Karen and I had been warned earlier by a line in “Mary Poppins,” spoken by the character Bert in the scene “In Jolly Holiday.” He said, “Mary has a plan. All it takes is a spark and then something playing in the park becomes a wonderland.”

Suddenly the lights brightened and the gates of the drab park scene slowly closed as characters wheeled in dressers and games, lifting our imaginations into a playland of letters and words. Costumes overwhelmed my vision, drawn to the center where playland teacher Mrs. Corry towered over everyone, in an orange dress with a flowered skirt beneath her towering orange hat with a feather. The teeming ensemble flowed onto stage in iridescent green gowns, surrounded by purples and yellows with the rest of the rainbow accenting the prim red overcoat of Mary Poppins. Soon Mary assembled letters to sing out “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and led the entire ensemble in song and dance.

My whole body felt stunned into a magical moment. An all-time great scene in musical theater performed practically perfect before my eyes in Wenatchee. How could that have happened, I wondered? Absorbed in the dazzle of the costumes, I whispered to Karen that MTW must have purchased them from a Broadway company when MTW bought the rights to produce the play.

Director Daina Toevs said, “No, almost all of them came from the wardrobes at MTW and Wenatchee High School with volunteers doing a lot of sewing.”

It’s magic to me that people could pull cloth from wardrobes to create that magnificent scene.

That interplay of imagination occurred over and over. Rather than recruit a cast of dancers, Toevs collaborated with Fabulous Feet Dance Studio and Academy of Ballet to choreograph for all the cast and they included their dancers in the cast. Karen, a dancer herself, was delighted to see such coordinated steps by many good dancers throughout the performance.

The spark for scheduling the play originated when Brad Duffy, from the theater department of Grays Harbor College in Aberdeen, told MTW Producer Kelly Atwood he was going to produce “Mary Poppins.” MTW was also considering it and Atwood said, “Dude, do it.” Grays Harbor, MTW and Wenatchee High School have a history of collaboration on a number of musicals, such as “Phantom of the Opera.” Duffy created the set for their production and leased it to MTW for a “great deal,” according to Atwood. Volunteers made two trips to Aberdeen to load up the sets and bring them here.

That set didn’t include the kitchen which, needed technical features to collapse on-demand and recreate itself at Mary’s command. The kitchen was created by Village Theater in Issaquah and sold to Mid-Columbia Musical Theater in Richland. But the mechanisms to create special effects were not included, so Duffy spent a week installing $1,000 of new parts. MTW rented it for a reasonable price and will drive it back soon. Is that magic or what?

Stories like these abound. Volunteers redesigned the PAC’s down stage area to expand it for actors to be closer to the audience, and added space underneath for a 14-piece orchestra and director under the stage.

“Mary Poppins” was first imagined on pencil and paper in 1934 when British author P.L. Travers penned a series of books about her ideal nanny who arrives for a dysfunctional family, set in London in 1910.

She finally gave approval to British producer Cameron Mackintosh for the first musical theater production in England in 2004. Mackintosh combined with Disney film production to produce the Broadway musical with lyrics and songs from four different composers and lyricists. Those credits read like a telephone book. Can that many people create magic? Yes. It ran on Broadway from 2006 to 2013 before it was released to sold-out community theaters like Wenatchee’s.

“Mary Poppins” was also a popular feature film released in 1964, starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. The film received four Academy Award nominations and Andrews won an Oscar for Best Actress.

Think of the volunteer creativity that produced it here: Locally produced and almost perfectly presented by a production cast and crew of over 100 people on our stage in Wenatchee, thousands of miles from where it originated. Made possible by an intricate network of collaboration by a dozen organizations to create self-destructing sets and flying actors. Supported by numerous sponsors.

The play was directed differently by Toevs than originally staged in London because she loves its themes of forgiveness, reconciliation and second chances. Toevs said, “We decided not to go dark. We went light. We brightened it up along the way. There’s magic in Mary in the park.”

And there’s magic in musical theater in the Wenatchee Valley.