WOOD RIVER JCT. — With only two days to go until opening night, the cast and crew of "Mary Poppins Jr." were in one of their final dress rehearsals Wednesday in the middle school auditorium, under the watchful eye of fifth-grade teacher and co-director Dorothy Cummings.
Presented by the Chariho Middle School Drama Club, "Mary Poppins" is familiar favorite. With singing and dancing in addition to acting, it's a challenge for the 67 actors and crew members, who are in Grades 5 to 8.
Cummings said she had chosen the musical because the release of the new "Mary Poppins" movie had given the production a pop culture renaissance.
“We try to stay current with our shows, so we thought that this would generate a lot of interest," she said.
Casting took place in November and rehearsals began in December. The set was designed and built by the drama club crew, and the costumes are from the Rhode Island Youth Theatre.
As everyone knows, there’s a lot of magic in "Mary Poppins."
“The challenge about doing a program like this is trying to instill the magic of Mary flying without her actually flying, because we don’t have the technology to do that,” Cummings said. “So, we’re trying to do that with props. Some of the challenges have been in making some of the props that didn’t come with the renting of the costumes. We like to think that our audience has some imagination.”
Sean Holzinger, who lives in Charlestown, plays George Banks, and Josh Simone, from Richmond, plays the chairman of the bank.
Simone is in eighth grade and this is his third play. He said it had been a bit daunting to learn his lines along with all the dancing.
“Memorizing our lines and all the cues and dances and everything," he said.
Holzinger, who is in fifth grade, is performing in his first middle school play.
“It’s very fun for me,” he said. “I just like memorizing my lines at home and playing around with them.”
In addition to acting and dancing, both characters have to sing.
“I like it, but for beginners, it does add a bit of a challenge,” Simone said.
“I like it because I’ve always loved singing,” Holzinger said.
Sarah Wojcik, Kylie Stubbs-Reynolds and Kaitlin Wojick, appropriately costumed in gray, play statues. Stubbs-Reynolds who plays Neleus, a statue in the park that Mary Poppins brings to life, said not moving was the most demanding aspect of her role.
“It’s hard to stand still, but the rest of it’s pretty easy,” she said.
Sarah Wojick said she had to learn not to smile.
“I just had to practice holding it, because I’d just smile a lot,” she said.
“We do smile when we dance,” Kaitlin Wojick added. “It’s Mary Poppins. Anything can happen.”
Cummings said she made a point of casting students from all grade levels in the lead roles. Even drama club members who have gone on to high school come back to help now and then.
“We have a big program,” Cummings said of the club. “Our program over the past couple of years has gotten very popular. We typically do musicals. We have our former students come back to work with us. Once they get over to the high school, they come back and they help out. So we feel like we’re a family together.”
"Mary Poppins" will be presented on Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets, which are $10 for adults and $5 for students, will be sold at the door.