'Mary Poppins Jr.' opens at Theatre In the Grove on Feb. 28
There's a wind in the East and a mist coming in. Like something is brewing, about to begin.
Can't put your finger on what lies in store? Look no further than Theatre In the Grove, which is set to unleash its latest show.
Through March 8, the theatre will present Cameron Mackintosh's "Mary Poppins, Jr." The performance — which opened Friday, Feb. 28 — is based on a popular Disney movie and Broadway musical.
A jack-of-all trades, Bert, introduces the audience to England in 1910 and the troubled Banks family. Young Jane and Michael Banks have sent many nannies packing until Mary Poppins arrives on their doorstep.
"It was a lot of training up front," said show director Sandy Libonati. "Watching how far they've come; learning the professionalism that is required to put on a show that is high quality. They're doing great."
The cast ranges in age from elementary schoolers to high school seniors. With about 30 kids in the cast and five others in the tech crew, the show was sometimes difficult to put together, Libonati said.
"This is a big show in not only how many songs there are, but they're all big dance numbers," she said.
There are about 23 songs in the entire show. To make sure each of the numbers and scenes fit on stage, Libonati had to get creative with lighting.
"This junior musical is clearly written for theater stages that have front curtains where you can play a lot of (the scenes) out front while they're setting up back in the back," she said. "We don't have that. So, I had to create that with lighting, where I did a little spotlighting with some things going down stage while set things were being done behind them in the dark."
Libonati said a big help was having local veteran actress Rachel Newton as Mary Poppins. The character uses a combination of magic and common sense to teach the family members how to value each other again.
The 16-year-old Glencoe High School student was excited once she landed the role.
"I remember we were in class and waiting for the bell to ring, and I got a phone call a couple days after call backs," recalled Newton. "I thought, 'It'll probably be a spam call,' but I'm going to answer it anyway — and I freaked out."
Newton has performed in nearly a dozen shows throughout her career, but this is her first lead role. She said the role of Mary Poppins was a little intimidating at first.
"That's one of the biggest things I'm worried about," she said, "because everybody loves 'Mary Poppins.' There's going to be older people who grew up with Mary Poppins, and I don't want them to see it and be kind of offended in a sense."
But older folks aren't Newton's only audience.
She enjoys performing for younger students along with acting alongside them on stage – for the most part.
"I really enjoy being able to work with younger kids and see their perspectives on things, especially the really young ones," said Newton.
When asked why she likes working with younger children, Newton said, "They'll tell you how they feel about things, even if you don't want it. It's not necessarily polite, but I enjoy working with (them)."
She hopes other kids will be inspired to join theatre after seeing the show.
"When I first saw a show, it just inspired me to want to go out and do theatre," recalled Newton. "So, that's always the main thing that I hope for is being able to inspire anybody, whether they be super young or even older, and they're just interested in how upbeat it is."
Despite having limited time to prepare for the show, Libonati hopes the audience can also see the children's hard work.
"To just enjoy how much the kids are actually doing onstage and be so proud (with) how well they're doing with the load that I've given them," she said. Mary Poppins along with Jane and Michael Banks have the most lines in the show. "They're really stepping up to the plate for this. I hope that the community can appreciate what they're seeing here."
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