This year’s Topanga Elementary musical production of “Mary Poppins, Jr.,” on March 16 and 17, took place in a new venue, Calabasas High School.
No doubt that presented challenges for director and choreographer (FocusFish founder) Kristy Beauvais and producers Jill Williams and Lisa Ward who wrangled a double cast of 90 kids into four performances, two on Saturday and two on Sunday.
The Saturday matinee got off to a late start, largely because the fabulous spread of British foods on display outside was so enticing. Proper English tea and homemade scones, Scotch eggs, sausage rolls, cookies, biscuits, and lovingly wrapped bouquets of flowers that far excelled anything you could buy at the corner store.
Reagan Hutchinson was “very Mary Poppins” in her violet overcoat, impeccable poise, and eloquent British accent, a perfect pairing with Izzy Martin as Bert, the Chimney Sweep.
The costumes, collected or recycled by Beauvais from previous shows, private collections, and others homemade, were organized and overseen by S. Miria Jo, in what was a monumental responsibility. Destiny London, whose daughter graduated last year, stepped in again anyway to lend her creative talents.
Paul Beauvais, Kristy’s husband, created the “dream set” that was enhanced by Sean Colgin’s drawing of the London skyline, and brought to life by Lisa Roumain-Smith, “the painting fairy,” and her parent volunteers.
“There wouldn’t be a show if it weren’t for the parents,” said third-grade teacher, Kelly Welch, whose daughter was in the Sunday performance. “We all pitched in where there was a need.”
The scenes at the bank were right on point and there’s something ever so adorable about seeing young boys play grumpy old men and business magnates in their suits and waistcoats.
Finn O’Connor’s portrayal of the curmudgeonly George Banks who, at the end, learns to become the father he never had, was impressive and well played. Imogene Colgin and Freddie Fulcher portrayed the children, Jane and Michael Banks, “just splendidly.” Fulcher, with an authentic English accent, managed that quizzical sideways expression that is pure Michael Banks. Izzy Martin, decked out in chimney sweep attire and sooted cheeks, was a wonderful Bert.
After a two-hour performance, there wasn’t much time before the next show at 5 p.m. The minute the lights came on after the last bow, all the parents swooped in to run their Edwardian-clothed actors home for a quick dinner and bring them back in time for the next performance.
Catching up with Martin, I asked how she liked playing Bert.
“Just fine,” she said. “At first, I was nervous but once you get on stage, you’re not so nervous. Really! And it’s so much fun, maybe a little chaotic, but I like it!”
Miss Poppins had already flown off with the breeze as she was nowhere to be found for an interview but no worries; her impeccable performance said it all.
Beauvais shared what inspired the choice of “Mary Poppins, Jr.” for this year’s musical.
“Well, it magically coincided with the release of the remake of the movie, Mary Poppins Returns” she said. It’s also perfect because it allows for large casts, so everyone has an opportunity to shine, even if it’s just one line!”
Beauvais said that getting all the adults to understand how this particular space works, along with 90 children, was a challenge. “We’re an elementary school production so we don’t get weeks in this theater and it’s a new venue for us. While this is our dream venue and we’re finally here, it’s a challenge but it always comes together.”
Finn O’Connor stopped for a moment and accepted a compliment: “Your George Banks was marvelous! Did you study the character a lot?”
“Well,” he said, “my mom really likes the movie, so I’ve seen it a lot. I guess I just knew how to be George Banks.” What he enjoyed most about being in the production was, “I made friends with Freddie (Fulcher), which was good. I’m a fifth grader, he’s a first grader.”
Beauvais interjected, saying, “The kids really have a chance to mentor each other through this process since we have all different ages working together.”
“We became better friends,” O’Connor said.
In her Director’s Note, Beauvais wrote: “The other day a young chimney sweep said to me, ‘I love working with you, Kristy, because you’re not straightforward. You play with us a bit.’ I realized in that moment I get to be Mary Poppins as director…and that’s a pretty awesome person to be.”
And what is the biggest reward?
“That experience I get to have at the end when I see how much the children feel and experience the magic of theater and we all get to feel that love together and the pride of it all. There really are no words for that,” Beauvais said.
Except for one: Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!
Well done to the Topanga Elementary cast and crew for another great spring musical. Cheerio!