ACU Theatre is bringing the beloved Disney film and book Mary Poppins to the stage for this year’s Homecoming Musical.
The musical is based on the Disney film of the same name, as well as the book by P.L Travers. Mary Poppins follows the adventures of a mysterious nanny who suddenly appears on the doorstep of the Banks household to care for siblings Jane and Michael Banks.
While in Poppins’ care, the Banks children meet a number of colorful characters including dancing chimney sweeps, a shoemaker and many others. The musical will feature beloved songs like “A Spoonful of Sugar”, “Feed the Birds” and others made famous by the film.
Rehearsal for the production of Mary Poppins began about two weeks before classes started, said Kari Hatfield, the director of the musical. This is Hatfield’s seventh time working on a Homecoming production and her second time directing a Homecoming Musical.
“I’ve been working with a great team of people who all have been working together, and I’m thankful that I didn’t have to figure it out on my own,” Hatfield said.
Mikayla Tipps, senior musical theatre major from Amarillo, is the lead role of Mary Poppins. This is not Tipps’ first encounter with the musical, as she was an assistant choreographer of a production of Mary Poppins this past summer. Tipps has also been in productions like Seussical, Children of Eden and Oklahoma! at Amarillo community theaters but has experience on the ACU stage as well.
“I have been in shows like Mary Poppins before,” Tipps said. “I have been in every Homecoming Musical since sophomore year, so this is not my first time doing a show like this. All of that being said, this is the first time I have had a lead of this caliber in a musical here at ACU.”
Joel Edwards, senior musical theatre major from Tyler, is playing the role of Bert, Mary’s cheery, chimney sweep friend. Edwards said that playing Bert has allowed him to have fun while on stage.
“I love playing Bert because he embodies the imagination and child-like energy that this show is all about,” Edwards said. “I also love playing Bert because we are very similar in a lot of ways.”
Mary Poppins is a very technical musical and even requires characters to soar over the stage at certain points in the show, something Tipps said has been an adjustment.
“We have the most amazing people ‘flying’ us, but the harnesses are less than comfortable, and flying is not something we have a lot of experience with,” Tipps said. “Getting the timing and posture right has been a challenge.”
Hatfield also said working with the technical aspects of the musical has taken some getting used to.
“This is the first production that I’ve done where we’ll be having people flying through the air,” Hatfield said. “That was a bit of a challenge, learning how to plan for that. The technical elements in the show are probably the most challenging aspect because it’s such a larger-than-life production.”
A musical would not be complete without dancing, and choreographer Melissa Zaremba said working on the musical has been challenging, yet rewarding, for her as well.
“It was challenging to show up for my first week of classes and start teaching and choreographing all on the first day before I really knew anyone in the show,” Zaremba said. “That’s a little opposite from how it typically works.”
Zaremba, who has been performing, teaching and choreographing for 14 years, says that working with the 44 cast members of the show was a new experience for her, but the progress the cast has made was inspiring to witness.
“My favorite part has been watching the progress and how it has grown from day one until now,” Zaremba said. “It’s a show that was already dear to my heart, and it’s been special to watch it become special to a new group of cast members and audiences and how it touches them in some way.”
Whether it be in book, on film or on stage, Mary Poppins has been a household name for decades, something Hatfield attributes to the story’s ability to appeal to all ages.
“I love the message of the story; I love that it appeals to my children, my parents and grandparents. I love that it’s something they can share together,” Hatfield said.
The homecoming production of Mary Poppins will run October 16-17 at 8 p.m. and October 18 at 2 p.m. at the Abilene Civic Center. Tickets can be purchased online, at the box office or by calling 325-674-2787.