Look forward to May, 2016, good people, when England’s legendary governess will be arriving from the skies over Cranbrook, with her famous parrot-handled umbrella to help the Banks family through the toughest time in their lives.
Mount Baker’s Wild Drama corps, under the direction of Mary Hamilton, is in rehearsals for its upcoming production of ‘Mary Poppins.’ The production, set for May 5-8, 2016, is following on last fall’s “The Optimist,” a surreal project based on silent film (and produced from scratch by the student corps), and ambitious and challenging projects from the past couple of years, namely “Urinetown” and “The Drowsy Chaperone.”
Like those two latter productions, Hamilton is bringing in some special help to make the magic of theatre a reality.
Siona Jackson, and old friend of Hamilton’s, is a Toronto-based choreographer and dance instructor with Toronto’s City Dance Corps. She choreographed both “Urinetown” and “Chaperone,” and is back for a third time.
Also involved in the project is Caitlin Matwey, herself a Baker grad, who is involved as music director.
Jackson is originally from Prince George, B.C. “We’re childhood friends,” she said of herself and Hamilton, in an interview with the Townsman following a rehearsal Friday. “Our moms knew each other in Scotland back in the day, so we go way back. Mary went off to drama school, I went off to dance school. And one day she called me, said ‘Siona, I’m doing these productions, I need a choreographer.'”
Both “Urinetown” and “The Drowsy Chaperone” were large-scale productions, with big risk and big reward. “Mary Poppins” is looking to take it to another level again.
“It’s very production heavy, in the sense of it being bigger, bigger sets, that sort of thing,” Jackson said. “It’s also heavy in the dance, the choreography.
“Mary Poppins has some big splashy numbers that we try to honour as best we can.
“And Mary has asked to make sure that we up the ante from last year and the year before. It’s really important to keep that climb going.”
Jackson says the choreography, and indeed the production as a whole, will have a lot of depths.
“We going to have a little Fosse-esque thing coming into this [as in the late Bob Fosse, renowned director and choreographer] … a little Michael Jackson, a little Tim Burton. A little bit of an edgy dark feeling going in to some of the pieces.”
Jackson’s influence can be seen in the productions she’s been involved with, but she says a lot of that is coming from the energy the students are putting into them.
“Their energy coming into this has been a great inspiration for me to build the choreography off of their abilities,” she said of the cast.
“It’s about grabbing the spirit from the kids. You have a plan in your head when you originally do the choreography, and when you shift it into live bodies there’s always going to be a change that’s happening. You take it off of them. That’s the way I choreograph. I put my own spin on it, of course — you want to have a little originality.”
The musical ‘Mary Poppins’ is based on the series of children’s books by P.L. Travers, and of course, the famous 1964 Disney film — the musical is a fusion of various elements from the two. Some elements from the books that had been omitted from the film were restored, others were removed. The same is true of the music, which Caitlin Matwey is in charge of.
“But there are numbers that are the same from the movie — beloved numbers, like ‘Step in Time,’ ‘Supercalifragilistic,’ ‘Jolly Holiday’ — but there are also numbers that are new and exciting that bring a new side to ‘Mary Poppins’ we haven’t seen before,” Matwey said. “It’s the same ‘Mary Poppins’ but with a different side that you’ll be surprised to see.”
Matwey has been putting together the orchestra, which she will be conducting come May.
“We’ve already got a pit, and lots of great players — it’s going to be awesome. “The orchestra comprised of 10-12 players, lots of sound effects, it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Matwey — of the Baker class of ’06, is pleased to be back at her alma mater, playing such a key role in the process.
“I love it! I’ve been wanting to come back and be part of the productions for years, and this opportunity just came along — it’s wonderful.”
Wild Drama’s production of “Mary Poppins” opens at the Key City Theatre in Cranbrook May 5, 2016.