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Firestone Theatre one of first to stage ‘Mary Poppins’

3/6/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

Brandon Kline (Bert) and Abigail Riley (Mary Poppins) lead the cast of “Mary Poppins,” which will be on stage in the Linda Kersker Theatre at Firestone High School March 19-22.
Photo courtesy of Mark Zimmerman
WEST AKRON — When Firestone Theatre director Mark Zimmerman saw the “Mary Poppins” musical in London several years ago, he knew immediately it was a show he wanted to do with his students here.

“I remember my wife had gone to see ‘Mary Poppins’ instead of what we were seeing, and afterward she said, ‘You have to go see this show,’” he said. “I thought, Why? I already know ‘Mary Poppins.’ She said, ‘It’s the best show I’ve ever seen, and you have to see it.’”

Once he saw it, he agreed, and since then it’s been something he’s been trying to get the chance to stage.

Now the Akron School for the Arts theater program is one of the first schools in the country to mount the show in a pilot program with Disney Theatrical. Zimmerman said Firestone will be the third high school to do the show this year and the first in Ohio. Performances will be March 19-22.

“I’m really honored by it,” he said. “If we didn’t have a track record for doing really good work, we wouldn’t be asked to do it. It’s certainly exciting to do it before a bunch of other people have done it.”

On the other hand, Zimmerman said, being one of the first also presents challenges in the way of figuring out how to make the show’s “magic” happen on a high school theater program budget.

“We’re the guinea pigs that have to flounder around to come up with solutions to everything,” he said.

In the musical, which is based on the 1964 Disney film, as well as the Mary Poppins books by P.L. Travers, special effects are used to display the title character’s magical qualities.

“You have to figure out which of the magic you can do and what you can’t,” Zimmerman said.

One of the effects Firestone Theatre will use for the first time to Zimmerman’s knowledge is flying using wires. ZFX Flying Effects, a professional company that has worked on Broadway shows such as “Wicked,” is coming to Akron to set up the equipment and train students to use it March 7-8.

“They come in and teach us everything we need to know,” Zimmerman said.

The stage show, like the film, features jack-of-all trades Bert, who introduces the audience to England in 1910 and the troubled Banks family. Young Jane and Michael Banks have sent many a nanny packing before Mary Poppins arrives on their doorstep. Using a combination of magic and common sense, she helps the family learn how to value each other again.

The stage version features most of the songs from the film, Zimmerman said, such as “Chim-Chim Cher-ee,” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” which were written by brothers Richard and Robert Sherman. There are also additional songs written especially for the stage show by George Stiles and Anthony Drew.

In addition, Emmy and Oscar winner Julian Fellowes, creator of “Downton Abbey,” wrote the musical’s book.

Among the cast members are Firestone students Abigail Riley, of Firestone Park, as Mary Poppins; Brandon Kline, of Copley, as Bert; Brian Hirsch, of West Akron, as Mr. Banks; Shelby Namsick, of West Akron, as Mrs. Banks; Shea Lee, of West Akron, as Jane Banks; and Stanley Niekamp, of West Akron, a student at King Elementary School, as Michael Banks.

“Mary Poppins” premiered on stage in London in 2004 and on Broadway in 2006. It closed in New York last March after more than 2,500 performances, according to show officials.

“Mary Poppins” will take place at the Linda Kersker Theatre at Firestone High School, 333 Rampart Ave., March 19 at 7 p.m., March 20-21 at 7:30 p.m., and March 22 at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance or $12 at the door.  Reserved VIP tickets are $15. Tickets are available online at www.brownpapertickets.com or by downloading an order form from www.firestonetheatre.com.

In addition, there will be a Tea with Mary Poppins event for children March 15 at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Tickets are $20 and include refreshments, a souvenir photo, backstage tour, performance of one number from the show and a ticket for the March 22 matinee show.

Also planned is a Fish and Chips Dinner March 22 at 5 and 6 p.m. A reservation form is on the website.

For additional information, call 330-873-3408.

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