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Pied Piper’s ‘Mary Poppins’ production is on spot

The chimney sweeps perform a number during "Mary Poppins" by the Pied Piper Theatre at Hylton Performing Arts Center. Photo by Doug Stroud.
Pied Piper Theater delivered a big performance once again with its spring production “Mary Poppins”, The Broadway Musical.

A classic tale, “Mary Poppins” originated out of series of children's books written by P.L. Travers, adapted by Walt Disney into a musical film in 1964 and then brought to Broadway in 2006. 

The Hylton Performing Arts Center show drew 600 plus guests for both shows on Saturday and almost a sellout on Sunday’s performance just short of 900 attendees.

“We were worried about the turnout with it being on Mother’s Day” said Anne Ridgeway, theater arts director, “But as of Friday night’s dress rehearsal we had pre-sold over 700 tickets.”

“Mary Poppins” on the surface is a tale about a nanny who mysteriously appears at the right moment with magical powers to take charge of Jane and Michael Banks (played by Anna Kaplan, a 5th grader from Cub Run Elementary and Roy Wulf a second grader at Linton Hall School), the children of George and Winifred. The family resides in London during the early part of the 20thcentury.  

As the play develops a deeper message is revealed when Jane asks her father what appears to be just an innocent question, “What’s more important, a good man or a good idea?” This one question alone not only changes George Banks’ outlook in life but also his family’s destiny along with the different life lessons that Mary Poppins imparts on each of the family members.

Playing the lead of Mary Poppins, Carolyn Karcher, a junior at Seton School, appears throughout the play in a smart red frock and matching skirt accented with black velvet trim and bow tie. Her costume is only outdone by her vibrant onstage personality and lovely voice. Poppins’ counterpart is the charming and handsome Burt, played by a seasoned Pied Piper actor, Dillen Longo, a junior at Forest Park High School, who has a crush on the beautiful and magical Poppins. Longo, who has appeared in 12 previous shows, anchors the play, narrating the show to the audience and as well as a strong supporting role with the children and chimney sweep dancers.

Winifred, played by Elizabeth Martin, is the glue to the Banks’ family which is quite different from the movie, a kind, strong and supportive wife and mother who never loses her faith or love for George as he struggles with being an authoritarian and evolves into a loving family mam. Martin, a junior at Patriot High School, was also in her 12th Pied Piper production.

Conducted more like a professional theater company than an all-volunteer run organization, the planning process for the company’s productions start nine months out with play selection, casting calls, set design, wardrobe and prop creation and then as little as two months for rehearsals while the young actors learn their lines, songs and choreography.

The Keller Foundation is a major contributor to Pied Piper, donating $75,000 this year for new equipment and programs in the past donated $100,000 to renovate the Center for the Arts: The Candy Factory in Old Town Manassas where Pied Piper is based.

There is a tremendous commitment required of the actors as is for parents, rehearsing three days a week, two hours a day and four hours on Saturdays leading up to tech week when rehearsals increase to five days a week.

This intense schedule is a lot for actors, especially school-aged ones who have to juggle homework assignments and other extra curricular activities with home life.

“I did my homework assignments ahead of time and musical practice right away (after school)”, said Roy Wulf, 8 years old.

“It was kind of stressful, learning all the lines and imagining where sets will be, but in the end it was really fun when it all comes together,” said 11-year-old Kaplan.

Playing the lead role of Mary Poppins was stressful but also enjoyable shared Karcher.

“There is definitely more pressure but I just enjoyed it, doing what I love to do. My mom texted me that I got the role of Mary Poppins and I freaked out when I found out!”

Longo who is a veteran amongst all other actors at Pied Piper and in his last year shared that it will be hard to move on. “A friend of mine asked me if it was bitter-sweet? It is just bitter, we are very close, it is like a family at Pied Piper and moving on will very hard, but I also know there are good things ahead.”

Not unlike other art organizations around the country face financial challenges but through the assistance of the Keller Foundation, the City of Manassas, ticket and product sales, and public and private donors like NOVEC. Pied Piper Theater is an oasis for kids.

“The mission of Pied Piper is to bring arts to the community and teach kids all elements of the arts; acting, production, set design, tech and costuming,” Ridgeway said. The theater company places the highest value on the youth, bringing in directors and staff that care more about giving kids opportunities than they do about money or fame.



Mary Poppins and her castmates perform during Pied Piper Theatre's production.
Photo by Doug Stroud.
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