The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

Behind the Curtain of Mary Poppins the Musical: Step in Time and Don’t Slip Up

Courtesy Todd Volkert
At Curtain Call, senior Connor Volkert (Bert) clicks his heels midair while senior Tessa Prodromou (Mary Poppins) stands to his left.

When she flies onstage, senior Tessa Prodromou hopes she can pull off being practically perfect in every way.

“It’s a lot of pressure to be Mary Poppins because her defining characteristic is flawlessness,” Tessa said. “As Ms. Diez says, ‘It’s fun to have fun, but it’s also really fun to be good.’”

Heavy is the head that wears the flowered cap of an iconic character from such a timeless story.

“‘Mary Poppins’ is all about reconnecting with your inner child and finding wonder again, which is so relevant these days,” Tessa said. 

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On Thursday, February 8, Tessa floated onto Cherry Tree Lane via umbrella as the magical woman beloved by many generations: Mary Poppins. Los Altos High School’s Performing Arts Department has been rehearsing for “Mary Poppins the Musical” since January 8, giving them only a month to get their ducks in a row and their spoonfuls sugared. For the average musical, four months is standard, so the cast and crew have been working at lightspeed to do the classic show justice and sweep audiences off their feet. 

A Stage Lit with Stars

Tessa is among the cast’s seasoned veterans, as a devoted performer in Broken Box and Mountain View’s Upstage Theater. Joining her is Broken Box and Upstage member senior Sam Cousins as George Banks, a grouchy workaholic father, and senior Connor Volkert as Bert, the spritely narrator/street artist/chimney sweep.

Unlike Tessa and Sam, who are accustomed to the spotlight, Connor was previously preoccupied with his interest in game development and hasn’t done theater since fifth grade. He joined the musical on a whim in hopes of expanding his horizons, and is now planning to join a theater in college.

“I saw ‘Mary Poppins’ on stage when I was 12 and I was in awe of ‘Step in Time,’ the number where Bert and the chimney sweeps dance on the rooftop,” Connor said. “I wouldn’t have believed you if you told me I was playing Bert now.”

The actors found ways to go above and beyond to embody their characters authentically. This month, the YouTube algorithm was likely confused by the spike in views for British accent tutorials. Connor, who had to adopt Bert’s strong Cockney accent, was almost too realistic.

“After auditions, I actually had to water it down because Ms. Battle said it was a little too good,” Connor said. “She could barely understand me.”

Dance Director April Oliver applauded students for their self-direction as the time constraint requires the cast to take initiative and use their improvisation instincts.

“I’ve been very impressed with the students’ ability to imagine what the character should do on stage and create some movement and blocking and stage business that suited the scene,” Oliver said. “In a quick production like this, it’s such a huge asset to have students who have the kind of awareness and creativity to step into their role.” 

The audience can expect to be dazzled by Mary Poppins’ signature magic, stunning vocal performances, powerful acting talent, and a special acrobatic solo from Bert during the ‘Step in Time’ sequence.

The Banks family looks to the sky after their beloved nanny has departed Cherry Tree Lane. Left to right: Junior Audrey Jamieson as Jane Banks, sophomore Avni Rajagopal as Michael Banks, junior Sophia Suffaletto as Winifred Banks and senior Sam Cousins as George Banks. (Courtesy Todd Volkert)

A Peek Behind the Curtain

The production is a collaboration between the many performing arts departments — Oliver is choreographer, choir teacher Lauren Diez is the Vocal Music Director and acting teacher Lisa Battle is the Drama Director and oversees tech design with Technical Director Myles Roland. 

Oliver notes that with an expensive production where funding and equipment are scarce, it’s crucial to find resourceful solutions. “Mary Poppins” aims to enchant on a budget.

“Miss Battle had this idea to have dancers enact the wind and be the force for magic,” Oliver said. “They signify which way the winds are going to carry Mary and ‘fly’ her in and out.”

The skillful posse of “wind” dancers adds a spellbinding flourish to each scene. In addition to these unique touches, the production utilizes intricate set designs to establish the whimsical audience. In a show this elaborate, there are a lot of moving pieces to juggle.

“A bed has to spring out of nowhere, people have to fly through windows,” Battle said. “This is ‘Mary Poppins,’ we’re literally making magic on stage.” 

Assistant Technical Director junior Nathan Coleman heads the designing process, which is a job only a longtime theater vet could do: crafting the sign for the Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious song and dance number, creating a kitchen wall and building a cabinet for the “magical” bag that seems to store infinite goodies. The sets are entirely student-made, with help from the Design and Fabrication class. Take a closer look at the set design process here.

The student-driven mindset of the technical design process is found in the opportunities for student leadership in rehearsals. Assistant Drama Director senior Emma Rensin’s experience as a stage director dates back to the LAHS production of “Mamma Mia” and the instant play festival earlier this year. Her dedication to the community and directing prowess made her a guiding force for students to execute polished performances.

Below the stage, the LAHS orchestra itself provides live accompaniment to the show, led by Instrumental Music Director Ted Ferrucci. 

A Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Community

Junior Audrey Jamieson, who plays plucky troublemaker Jane Banks, attributes the perseverance throughout the demanding rehearsal process to the strong bond between cast members.

“There are some cast members who are so sweet, they bring cups of tea and cough drops for other people,” Audrey said. “In Tech Week we could be exhausted from rehearsing until 9 p.m. yet we’re willing to put up with it because we have each other.”

Nostalgia hangs in the air for the senior class of LAHS theater kids, as they will soon soar off with the wind like Poppins herself.

“Soak in every moment,” Sam said. “In Broken Box, there are 27 shows total in three years and it feels like each one doesn’t count very much. But that number will shrink and shrink and soon you have one left, and looking back, you realize how special the memories are.”

The community built in a theater is sacred not only onstage but offstage as well. 

“My favorite part of rehearsals are honestly when I’m not onstage and I get to talk to people and make inside jokes and laugh together,” Audrey said. “It sounds corny but it’s true.”

The final show is at 7 p.m. today in the Eagle Theater. Student and staff admission costs $10, while general admission is $15. Tickets can be purchased online here

Audrey Tsai contributed to reporting on this story.

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