By Jim Nowlan
Grace Klooster and James Plotner were “practically perfect” (a tune from the show) in their roles as the heaven-sent nanny and the sage chimney sweep in this year’s Stark County High School spring musical production of Mary Poppins.
With a confident, never-errant and lilting voice, Klooster transforms the dysfunctional Banks household into an harmonious, loving family by the end of the second act.
Along the way, the handsome, cat’s meow Plotner draws upon a strong voice to cajole all the characters, and the audience for that matter, into a deeper appreciation of the more important things in life—love, hopes, aspirations, dreams.
The leads were admirably supported by a large cast of talented singers and dancers as well as a six-piece pit orchestra that added an extra dimension of musical support not generally found in high school musicals.
Faith Elsasser and Jack Colgan played the spunky, ornery yet terminally cute Banks children to a tee, blending their voices effectively with the leads. They were on stage much and never faltered with their clever lines and vocal accompaniment to Klooster and Plotner.
Paige Swearingen brought a truly rich voice with fine vibrato to her role as Mrs. Banks, the long-suffering wife of the officious, self-centered banker George Banks, played convincingly by Todd Reay.
The Banks household includes a bossy maid and a bumbling male servant, again spot-on good casting of Heather Gehrt and Matthew Roark. Roark had only a couple of opportunities for brief snatches of solo singing, yet I sensed a very fine voice lurking within.
Miranda Bessler and Jeanna Kieser had unusual roles, the first as a poor lady who sold bread crumbs for birds in the park, and the second as a purveyor of “letters” for use in words. This latter is what gives us the wonderful tune, “Supercalafragilisticexpealidocious.”
Miranda’s voice projected a haunting, captivating quality as she sang “Tuppence,” and Jeanna punched out her singing like a Broadway trouper.
Naomi Downing, Makayla Morales, Alayna Steward and Mackenzie Brown played dolls come to life. They not only sang buoyantly but also had the mechanical movements of the dolls down just right.
The pompous bank clerks, led by especially self-important Quin Breese as well as Jacob Reay and Christopher Roark, looked every bit their parts, and also included Caleb Davis, Matthew Roark and Dane Williams.
Mallery Pearson played a statue in the park who came to life in Mary Poppins’ alternative world, and with her athletic moves and big smile, she lit up the stage.
Sarah Pike had a difficult role as an absolutely unappealing fill-in nanny who terrorized the Banks’ children, and she brought off the nastiness of her assignment with panache.
Dancing, singing of ensemble superb
The 26 members of the ensemble were indeed stars in their own right this year, the equals of the fine cast. They danced with precision and projected a rich choral harmony throughout the high school gym.
Coached by professional choreographer Michelle Loeffler, the high-stepping ensemble swirled, kicked, and reached high into the air in several complicated yet joyous routines.
Well done, gang!
As always, the show could not have gone on without the efforts of scores of students and community members.
Directors Angie Roark and Thomas McElwee pulled the whole production together, ably as always in the case of Angie and clearly supported nicely by Thomas, a talented musician in his own right.
Veteran student director Elizabeth West and stage manager Yosita Beamer will have to take the well-deserved bows for all their colleagues behind stage, too numerous to list.
Once again, the Stark County Fine Arts Network provided financial support that made it all happen.
Back to the stars
The great American musicals, certainly including Mary Poppins, are corny, endearing and instructive all at once.
They generally end well and are uplifting, exhorting all of us to be better somehow than we often are, to focus more on others than on ourselves, for example.
James Plotner as the chimney sweep was more an observer about life than a participant in the life of the Banks family. Yet, he carried us along with his trenchant observations and admonitions to the children, for example, that their problems don’t look so bad when they step back from them.
And Grace Klooster caused a tear to well up in my eye, as it did in hers, when at the show’s end she had to leave the Banks Family she had come to love, where all is now hunky dory, and fly off to the stars, clutching her ever present umbrella.
I can’t wait til next year’s musical production, which will have a tough time matching Mary Poppins for audience delight.