SSMT's MARY POPPINS to Open 7/23

SSMT's MARY POPPINS to Open 7/23

Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre (SSMT) hosts the regional premiere of the practically perfect musical Mary Poppins, opening July 23.

Catharine Kay steps into the iconic shoes of that practically perfect nanny, Mary Poppins, for the SSMT production. "Mary Poppins has always been a dream role," she said. "She isn't your typical leading lady. She doesn't need saving. She does the saving. Finding the balance between creating my own version of Mary while still honoring the Mary Poppins of P.L. Travers' books and Walt Disney's movie is both necessary and challenging. I love her certainty. As a person, and especially as a recent graduate and young actor, it is so easy to dwell on doubts and fears. Mary isn't like that. She is capable and sure. It is a joy to spend my days wearing Mary's armor of certainty."

Mary Poppins features music and lyrics by the Academy Award winning Sherman Brothers (with additional music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe) and a book by Downton Abbey's Julian Fellowes. The musical received seven Tony Award nominations, including Best Musical, winning for Best Scenic Design.

Patrick Clealand Rosé takes on the role of the lovable and always surprising everyman Bert. "Bert is a huge dream role for me," he said. "I think what draws me to him is his lack of negativity. He acts as the narrator for the show and is truly Mary's go to man! I think the biggest number audiences will recognize from Bert is "Step in Time". It is the giant high energy 11 o'clock number and combines singing and dancing and even some flying! I think this number shows the audience that Bert has very few limitations!"

Rising seventh grader Ella Schnoor, a veteran performer in LES MISERABLES (Reston Players and Woodstock Playhouse) and One More Night (Kennedy Center Page to Stage Festival), takes on the role of Jane Banks in SSMT's Mary Poppins. Schnoor admits to being a trifle obsessed with making Jane Banks into a living, breathing girl. "Mary Poppins is the first musical I ever saw, and I am so excited to be getting to play Jane Banks this summer," she said. "When I found out I had the part, I read all the books and even did a book report about Jane Banks, where I compared her life to mine and rewrote a scene from Jane's point of view. I was surprised at how many things from the books got worked into the show that are not in the movie. The songs from the movie are there, but there are a lot of great new songs and the story looks a lot more at the Banks family. If you saw the movie Saving Mr. Banks, you'll be surprised at how many things P.L. Travers was able to get into the musical that she didn't get into the movie."

One of the differences in the musical and movie versions is the portrayal of Mrs. Banks. Tara Michelle Gesling, an Equity actress whose credits include Hairspray (Velma), Mame (Mame), Beauty and the Beast (Wardrobe), and Pippin (Catherine), plays Winifred Banks in Mary Poppins. "I am more than excited to bring Winifred to life on stage!" said Gesling. "I absolutely love her music, which was added for the musical and is not in the movie version. Her complex character and arch as a woman, wife, and the mother of the family is just so thrilling to create. "Being Mrs. Banks" is the moment when you really get to see Winifred in her rawest moments. You really start to fall in love with her and are rooting for her to "get it right" with her family, and restore happiness and youthfulness in her marriage."

Capitol Steps member and Equity actor Jack Rowles, who has performed with Shirley Jones, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Stapleton, Dean Jones, Carol Lawrence, Eddy Arnold, and Dorothy Lamour, will play George Banks in SSMT's Mary Poppins. Rowles said he was drawn by the beautiful score and the charming and magical journey of the Banks family. "I admire George's drive and passion for his family," he said. "George's journey is much more fleshed out in the musical version. George doesn't have any big numbers, but he has a lot of little moments which lead up to a wonderful discovery in the end. (I won't spoil the surprise)."

SSMT has assembled a fantastic team who is lovingly bringing the magic of Mary Poppins to life on the Winchester stage. Director Carolyn Coulson is an Associate Professor of Theatre at Shenandoah Conservatory, where she has directed Assassins, Sweet Charity, Anything Goes, 1 Henry IV, Pride and Prejudice, Noises Off, and The Secret Garden. Other directing credits include Pippin, Reckless, A Midsummer Night's Dream, A...My Name is Alice, Gammer Gurton's Needle, and Steel Magnolias.

Music Director Thomas Albert was most recently seen conducting the SSMT orchestra for last season's critically acclaimed LES MISERABLES and Chicago. He has served as a music director for SSMT since its first season in 1984; recent work includes 9 to 5, Grease, Aida, Curtains, Seussical, and Show Boat. He has been on the faculty of Shenandoah Conservatory since 1974; he is currently professor of music (composition, musical theatre) and holds the Charles B. Levitin Chair in Musical Theatre.

"Dr. Albert and Carolyn Coulson are such an amazing team together!" said Gesling. "Dr. Albert is such a genius when it comes to music, that there is never a doubt in my mind that he steers us in the right direction rhythmically and emotionally in our songs! And we have all loved working with Carolyn! Her advice about who these characters really are and their depth, besides just the lines and songs that you see performed in front of the audience, is really what makes these actors bring each one of their characters to life!"

Choreographer Edward Carignan lives and works in NYC.

Director/Choreographer credits include: Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Short North Stage and American Repertory Theater, Boston, MA- Broadway World Best Musical 2012), Is There Life After High School? (NYC Revival), Boomermania: The Musical About the Baby Boomers (Original Los Angeles Production), and A Christmas Story and Forum (Little Theatre on the Square, IL).

Rising seventh grader Tyson Francis, who has danced in such ballets as The Nutcracker, Sorcerer's Apprentice, Puss in Boots, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter and the Wolf, takes on the role of Michael Banks. "I am excited to be a part of the show because of the choreography," he said. "Growing up I was a fan of the movie Mary Poppins and I have always wanted to play the part of Michael Banks. I am excited to be in this show and humbled to be chosen for such a big part. It is such a privilege to learn and study with the experts at SSMT."

Patrick Clealand Rosé, who plays Bert, said audiences should expect fantastic dancing in numbers such as "Jolly Holiday," "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," and "Step in Time." "The dancing must be at 100% for every number," he said. "It's exhausting, but rewarding!"

In addition to the beautiful songs, lively choreography, and a certain practically perfect flying nanny, audiences attending SSMT's regional premiere of Mary Poppins should expect magic and some heart-warming life lessons.

"I think we could all use a magical nanny to fix things in our lives," said Catharine Kay, who plays Mary Poppins. "Since that's not normally an option, we need to be brave enough to be honest in our relationships. It takes strength to be vulnerable."

The Mary Poppins cast includes Catharine Kay (Mary Poppins), Patrick Clealand Rosé (Bert), Jack Rowles (George Banks), Tara Michelle Gesling (Winifred Banks), Ella Schnoor (Jane Banks), Tyson Francis (Michael Banks), Leslie Joelle (Katie Nanna/Queen Victoria), Zac Ostrowski (Policeman), Claire Wittman (Miss Lark), Nick Nerangis (Admiral Boom/Bank Chairman), Whitney Warrenfeltz (Mrs. Brill), R.C. Hiers (Robertson Ay), Taylor Bloom (Park Keeper), Kacey Willis (Neleus), Lindy Hockaday (Miss Smythe), Philip Skinner (Von Hussler), Seth Walker (Northbrook), Lara Treacy (Bird Woman), Kelsee Sweigard (Mrs. Corry), Robin Chinn (Fannie), Mara Lucas (Annie/Rag Doll), Bryce Wagner (Valentine/Poseidon), Cassandra Hlong (Mr. Punch), Courtney Hostetler (Teddy Bear), Cassidy Watkinson (Ballerina Doll), Meg Stefanowicz (Miss Andrew), and Cressler Peele (Messenger).

The Mary Poppins ensemble consists of Taylor Bloom, Sam Bostic, Margaret Butler, Robin Chinn, Cassandra Hlong, Lindy Hockaday, Courtney Hostetler, Leslie Joelle, Mara Lucas, Rafael Martinez-Salgado, Zac Ostrowski, Cressler Peele, Daniel Pippert, Christopher Prasse, Philip Skinner, Meg Stefanowicz, Kelsee Sweigard, Lara Treacy, Bryce Wagner, Seth Walker, Kacey Willis, and Claire Wittman.

Mary Poppins runs July 23-August 3, 2014 at Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre, performing at the Ohrstrom-Bryant Theatre, 1460 University Drive, Winchester, VA 22601. For tickets to Mary Poppins, call the box office at 540-665-4569 or 877-580-8025.

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