CSOPA brings Mary Poppins to stage

CSOPA Mainstage students will perform Mary Poppins: The Musical at the Cultural Centre Jan. 15 to 24.

CSOPA Mainstage students rehearse Mary Poppins: The Musical in their new home at UFV North Campus. Front left

CSOPA Mainstage students rehearse Mary Poppins: The Musical in their new home at UFV North Campus. Front left

It’ll be supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, that’s for sure.

The Chilliwack School of Performing Arts (CSOPA) presents Mary Poppins: The Musical beginning January 13.

The Progress sat down with Director Emily Hamel and Stage Manager Lisa Braun during a rehearsal to chat about the magic that is coming to the stage.

Based on the novels by P.L. Travers and the Disney film, the musical will include all of the beloved characters and music, with extended scenes, songs, and additional characters.

The Banks children are out of control and their parents are too busy to pay them any mind. As they begin their search for a replacement nanny, in swoops Mary Poppins.

Wherever Mary is, magic is not too far behind. Flying chimney sweeps, dancing toys and magical carpetbags are all tools of Mary’s trade, as she uses a spoonful of sugar to make everything practically perfect in every way.

“People often guess that our shows are kids programs. They’re really not,” said Braun, CSOPA’s Artistic Director. “We have highly trained pre-professionals.”

CSOPA offers programs for students aged 3 to 19, but their biggest annual musical is put on by Mainstage. Experienced students take on a full-length musical, accompanied by industry professionals in set, costumes, makeup and music.

“[The cast] are as demanding on themselves as we are on them, if not more,” said Braun. That hard work pays off with professional-calibre productions, like Suessical, Shrek or the Addams Family that they’ve produced in years past.

“It’s a privilege to be a part of it,” said Hamel, who is thrilled to bring Mary Poppins to the Chilliwack stage.

“As a character, she is magical and mysterious. There’s just something about her that catches your attention,” Hamel enthused.

“And she makes all of [the Banks family] feel like they can be more than they are.”

In doing so, she brings a disconnected family back together again, which is a story not unfamiliar to us in this day and age.

The Mary Poppins cast of 27 members aged 12 to 18 includes some veterans, like Meghan Mindel (playing Mary) and Caylen Braun (playing Bert) who have been with CSOPA for ten years.

Mindel was thrilled to find out she got the role of the woman who is “powerful, but still so lovely.” C. Braun enjoys most that he’s playing such a free spirited character.

George and Winifred Banks are played by Blake Pyne and Amber Wilber, who appreciate the growth of the marriage and the family unit that occurs over the course of the play.

“You see the entire spectrum,” said Pyne, who’s character transitions from being “a grumpy, cynical old man, to a loving husband and father.”

Also in the cast are Sydney Gazso and Kyle Kouwenhoven, playing children Jane and Michael. As they sat cozy with their fictitious parents on the couch, Gazso laughed, “We’ve really gotten close as a family. A little too close, at some points.”

For the first time in Chilliwack, Mary and Bert will take flight in the Cultural Centre, made possible by Flying by Foy special effects from Las Vegas.

It’s a big undertaking for a non-profit theatre organization, but Braun said that they don’t shy away from technical challenges.

“It’s going to be so worth it. It’ll be stunning,” she enthused.

As she flies through the air, Mary will be donning some beautiful custom-made dresses and coats, created by Costume Designer Heather Westergard. There are over 125 costumes in the production, all exemplifying early 20th century London attire.

As the young cast take on sophisticated roles which require them to understand life in the early 1900s, the realities of marriage, and – for one character – learning how to walk like he is 98 years old, the crew leaders challenge them as well.

One of the toughest skills that the cast have had to master is tap-dancing. Choreographer Emily Henney spent weeks teaching them the eight minute ‘Step In Time,’ through which they are tap-dancing and singing the entire time.

Vocal Director Lisa Zimmer took on the ambitious task of training the cast to perform four-part harmonies, which are particularly rich with an equal male-female cast. The orchestra will add beautiful depth to the music, directed by Trischa Buhler.

Designed by Carol Rapanos, the set is one of the largest that CSOPA has done. The interior-exterior Cherry Tree Lane structures are equipped with a fireplace and staircase, and at 20 ft., they are the tallest moving set pieces that CSOPA has ever had.

See the magic unfold before your eyes in the new year. Mary Poppins previews on Jan. 13 and 14, 2016, opens on Friday, Jan. 15 and runs until Jan. 24.

Evening performances take place at 7:30 p.m. and matinée performances are at 2:00 p.m.

Visit chilliwackculturalcentre.ca for the full schedule.

Tickets are $22 for adults, $16 for students and seniors. Tickets are available at the Box Office (9201 Corbould St.), at 604-391-7469, or online.