‘Mary Poppins’ floats in to SCHS

Show goes on in original director’s absence
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Leader Photo by Lee Pulaski Mary Poppins, played by Hannah Williams, and Bert, played by Hunter Krolow, dance to the tune of “Jolly Holiday” during the first act of “Mary Poppins.” Shawano Community High School is performing the tale of a magical nanny for its winter musical.

Leader Photo by Lee Pulaski Mary Poppins, played by Hannah Williams, is packed up and ready to leave in the second act of “Mary Poppins.” The musical is based on the 1964 Disney film.

Folks who were around when “Mary Poppins” first hit the silver screen in 1964 can relive one of the films of their youth when Shawano Community High School debuts the musical next week.

The tale of the magical nanny with the large carpet bag who rides in and out with the wind hits the local stage with more than 40 students from the high school and other area schools, not to mention a couple of home-schooled children.

The show opens with the Banks family contending with the sudden departure of the nanny, spurred by the unruly nature of the children, Jane and Michael. The children tell their parents what they want in a new nanny, but before an advertisement can be run in the local paper, Mary Poppins arrives, reciting the same job qualifications uttered by the children moments earlier.

Though Mary is firm, she is also a lot of fun, as she uses a spoonful of sugar and other unorthodox methods to teach the children important life lessons. Helping her out is Bert, a man of many trades who is quite taken with the English nanny.

“It’s really exciting to be able to do a show that’s been such a part of my childhood,” said Hannah Williams, who plays Mary Poppins. “It’s been a little challenging, but I’ve been practicing my British accent from a very young age, so you could say I was born for this.”

Williams has had to put in a lot of time preparing for the role. She has been involved in vocal lessons outside regular rehearsals and has studied scores of dialogue.

“I’d seen it as a traveling show, so I’d kind of dipped my toe in the water,” Williams said. “I was familiar with it, and I’d watched the movie since I was very young.”

Hunter Krolow, who plays Bert, said he tried to keep a lot of what Dick Van Dyke portrayed in the original film, but he also wanted his own personality to shine through. From the first moments when the curtain rises to Mary’s big goodbye scene, Krolow’s face and body become quite animated.

“It’s exciting. I just get to stand up there and have a good time,” Krolow said. “It’s a very lighthearted role.”

This year’s show personifies the old theater adage, “The show must go on,” as Cheryl Ritter takes the director’s reins. Jonathon Kent, the choir director and longtime musical director at SCHS, had to bow out due to health issues.

“Usually, I just do the costumes,” Ritter said, noting that she’d planned to leave after this year when her daughter, Georgi, graduates. “I was probably the most logical one to come in because I did ‘Charlie Brown’ last spring, and I’ve been around for a long time, so I know how things work at the school.”

Ritter also has extensive experience working with Box in the Wood Theatre Guild and the Wolf River Homeschoolers Performing Arts program, directing 10 musicals before “Mary Poppins.” That experience didn’t stop her from taking a deep breath when she was asked by her daughter to fill in for Kent.

“This is the biggest thing I’ve ever done,” Ritter said. “I have been in contact with Jon a lot, because I want to do his vision and do things his way. He had started — he cast it, he had a set design, and he had lots of plans already in place.”

Those plans included flying actors, just like in “The Wizard of Oz” in 2015. Williams will float in just like Julie Andrews did in the Disney film, and there are other aerial feats planned.

One difference Ritter noted between her directorial style and Kent’s is that she prefers the students not be congregated backstage. Instead of having chorus members on for a couple of songs, Ritter has them constantly on stage for songs such as “Jolly Holiday” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”

“Some of them have four or five costume changes because I tuck them in here and there,” Ritter said.

Although the film is more than 50 years old, the story only hit Broadway in 2006. There are a few differences between the film and the musical, according to Jen Green, the show’s vocal director.

One of those differences is “The Talking Shop,” which Green said “tells the history of how the word ‘supercalifragilisticexpliadocious’ was coined.”

Green, who has worked with Ritter previous on the Wolf River Homeschoolers’ “Anne of Green Gables” and other shows, noted that the parents and staff have really come together to keep the show going during Kent’s absence.

“The theme of the show is how family is so important,” Green said. “I have two kids in this show, so the irony is not lost on me.”

AT A GLANCE

WHAT: “Mary Poppins”

WHEN: 3:30 Feb. 1; 7 p.m. Feb. 2-4; 1 p.m. Feb. 4

WHERE: Auditorium, Shawano Community High School, Shawano

TICKETS: $12 adults, $9 ages 60 and over, $6 children. Tickets are available at the high school office or at the door.