‘Mary Poppins’ takes flight at Caesar Rodney High School

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Caesar Rodney High senior Madeline Thompson portrays the title role of “Mary Poppins” with co-stars, from left, Andrew Walls, as Bert, and brother-sister actors Alex Blecher, 8, and Elayna Blecher, 10, as the Banks’ children Michael and Jane. The musical, based on the beloved Disney film, starts Thursday at the Camden school. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

CAMDEN – The beloved magical nanny Mary Poppins is blowing into town next week as Caesar Rodney High School presents the classic tale for its annual spring musical.

The large collaboration of six adults, 52 student actors and 14 crew members have been working together since December to bring the piece together.

“We usually do a stalwart show for the spring musical and the last time we did a Disney production was ‘Beauty and the Beast’ three years ago,” director Keith McCarthy said. “‘Beauty and the Beast’ had a great reception so we decided to try another Disney musical.”

Just like every spring musical, Caesar Rodney’s student orchestra will perform along with the actors.

“The orchestra is made of band students who audition to be part of the orchestra and they do a great job. Broadway music like this isn’t easy, and these kids handle it like professionals,” Mr. McCarthy said.

Musical challenge

But unlike other musicals, the dozen-member orchestra for “Mary Poppins” plays for nearly the entirety of the performance, not just the musical scenes.

“It can be difficult because everything is cued and there’s no dead spaces and you have to keep up a rhythm with your lines to stay with the

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From right, Caesar Rodney’s Madeline Thompson as the magical Mary Poppins with Ciara Christensen and Matt Nuzzo as Winifred and George Banks, Elayna and Alex Blecher as Jane and Michael Banks, Noah Mills as Robertson the butler and Ruth Welch as the family maid, Mrs Brill.

music,” said Madeline Thompson, a senior playing the title role.

Her co-star, senior Matt Muzzo portraying the role of Mary’s employer Mr. Banks, agreed that the continuous music can be a little stressful.

“It’s great because it gives you structure to keep a certain pace with your lines and acting but it can also get in your head for the same reasons,” he said.

Matt has been acting at CR for two years, serving on the stage crew before that and said the nature of “Mary Poppins” makes it a challenge.

“I’ve never done this much singing and dancing before so it’s taken a lot of work and been more demanding than the other shows I’ve done,” he said.

Mr. McCarthy and his assistant director John Muller both noted that this musical is more song and dance heavy than any show most of the kids have done before.

“This is the sixth musical I’ve done with CR and I think we are asking more than ever from the students but they’ve risen to the challenge and put everything they have into it,” Mr. McCarthy said.

Hard work

Putting in extra work includes seeking help from the adults working on the production for areas the actors need to work on.

“I’ve never done this much dancing before so it’s something I’ve needed help with,” said Andrew Walls, acting the role of chimney sweep Bert.

“I’ve had to take more time to work with the choreographer (Samantha Timlin) than most of the other actors, but you do what you have to do to do the best you can. I’m just glad she’s been really patient with me.”

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Mary and the Banks children help feed the birds with The Bird Woman played by Hanna Griffith in a scene from the Caesar Rodney High School production of “Mary Poppins.”

The high schoolers and adult coordinators aren’t the only ones putting many hours into the musical –– the featured children of the Banks’ family, Jane and Michael played by Elayna and Alex Blecher have also been on set almost every day.

“We’ve been practicing since December and it’s a lot of fun,” said 10-year-old Elayna. “Sometimes it’s hard to remember all the lines but when we need help, the big kids are there for us.”

That means the teens set an example for the children on stage and off.

“It gives us a little more responsibility because we aren’t only playing our own parts but we have to serve as role models for the kids,” Madeline said. “I can share with them what I know and give them pointers and I think that helps me too.”

The Blecher brother and sister pair work on their lines at home too with 8-year-old Alex’s twin sister Alissia almost every night.

“It’s amazing,” Mr. McCarthy said. “These kids are probably used to going to bed at 7:30 and they’re here with us until 9 or 10 for rehearsal.”

But Elayna and Alex don’t mind because although it’s work, it’s fun.

“I’ve been acting since I was in kindergarten and [Elayna]’s been doing it since first grade and we really like it,” Alex said. “And we love the songs in this. My favorite song is ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.’”

Some serious themes

Although the musical is very lighthearted at points with songs like “Chim, Chim Cher-ee” and “A Spoonful of Sugar,” it also focuses on some heavier themes than your typical Disney musical.

“For me and a lot of the actors, it’s personal,” Mr. McCarthy said. “This is a story about a family growing. They’re realistic –– a family working together and doing the best they can.”

The Banks children also learn serious lessons from Mary Poppins, most notably humility, compassion and responsibility.

But the musical, which first hit Broadway in 2006, doesn’t exactly follow the story laid out by the 1964 Disney film starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke and allows for more character development, giving roles like Mrs. Banks and the Banks’ live-in help larger, more interesting parts.

“The characters in the movie were a lot more three-dimensional than your typical Disney movie but the play shows even more of them than the movie,” said junior Rita Welch, who portrays the Banks’ maid, Ellen.

Mrs. Banks doesn’t get much attention in the movie but is a featured character in the stage musical, giving senior Ciara Christiansen a sizable role.

“Before this, I had only been in the ensemble for the musical so this has been different but fun,” she said.

“And the character I play, she’s so much more in-depth on stage than she is in the movie, which is great for me because I love the movie so it’s interesting to dive a little further into one of the characters.”

“Mary Poppins” will be performed Thursday through March 12 at 7 p.m. at Caesar Rodney High School, 239 Old North Road, Camden.

Tickets are $10 and available online at crscat.org or at the door (cash or check only).

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