MATES production a ‘practically perfect’ show
| June 08, 2017
By Cary Ginell
As everyone knows, Mary Poppins is a prim and proper British nanny who discharges her duties without emotion.
But MATES elementary school fifth-grader Hayley Shukiar couldn’t hold back tears of accomplishment last Saturday during the final bows, basking in the enthusiastic cheering of the audience after spit-spotting her way through her last performance as Poppins that was “practically perfect in every way.”
Hayley wasn’t alone, however. The June 3 show was packed with poised performances from top to bottom, all herded by director Frank LaGuardia.
LaGuardia is a miracle worker with children, able to bring out their best, using loving, caring and detail-oriented direction. Hayley’s Poppins had all the right qualities: the polished British accent, the correct stance (toes pointing outward) and, of course, a pitch-perfect voice.
The rest of Saturday’s cast was equally outstanding.
Kaige Moore played Bert, the chim-chim-cheree chimney sweep, using an accent that Dick Van Dyke would have envied.
It was Kaige who delivered the night’s funniest and most unexpected addition.
During the sequence in Mrs. Corry’s Talking Shop, where Poppins and her charges are sorting through letters trying to construct words, Kaige chirped, “I know! Covfefe!” Tidal waves of laughter ensued from the audience, who recognized the nonsensical word from President Trump’s since deleted May 30 tweet.
The Saturday cast was one of three LaGuardia assembled from a large contingent of fourth- and fifth-graders at the school.
The others performed on Friday and Sunday.
Joella Denove showed great poise as Mrs. Banks, singing a beautiful rendition of “Being Mrs. Banks,” one of the newer songs added to the Poppins score.
Ruby Tennison and Nyla Pascual carried off the major roles of Jane and Michael to near perfection, with Nyla’s perfectly timed ripostes garnering laughs.
Sienna Sheath’s Mrs. Brill also showed exquisite comic timing, exhibiting much discipline in that key role, and Chloe Odell, clad in black with Halloween makeup, made for a fearsome Miss Andrew.
As the Bird Woman, Kennedy Bateman presented the emotional highlight of the show with her subdued, melancholy singing of “Feed the Birds.” Chris Kolde was superb as the doddering Bank Chairman, and Trey Kallman stiff-upper lipped his way through an excellent portrayal of the emotionally damaged George Banks.
Elementary school productions of complex Broadway musicals are always a bit chancy, like the weather on Cherry Tree Lane.
As “A Spoonful of Sugar” states: “In every job that must be done there is an element of fun,” and the congenial LaGuardia used his own Poppins magic in marshaling the proper technical and backstage wizardry the show required to be successful.
Acting coach Carlos de los Rios understood that children have all they can manage just to memorize lines without taking into account character personalities, correct blocking and timing, and singing on pitch. Given that, the cast’s job was remarkable, with only a few moments of uncertainty due to a forgotten line or mistimed entrance.
Dana McCoy provided outstanding guidance with regard to accents, ranging from the upper-middle class speech patterns of the Banks family to street artist Bert’s cockney brogue. Leasa Shukiar designed the outstanding choreography, highlighted by the ebullient tap-dancing chimney sweeps in the “Step in Time” number.
Travis and Christina Shaffer headed up the construction of the solid, attractive Banks home set, while Ed Nuki and Gary Dawson provided the jewel-like video wall backdrops, which included an evocative St. Paul’s Cathedral, complete with animated birds, and windblown kites in a sunny park to accompany “Let’s Go Fly a Kite.” LaGuardia himself led a marvelous six-piece orchestra.