CENTERVILLE — Sarah Jane Watts grew up watching Disney’s film version of “Mary Poppins” and as a teen had the opportunity to see the musical on Broadway. Ever since, she has always loved the title character because “she is so iconic.”
Now, years later, she is playing the character she always loved on the CenterPoint Legacy Theatre stage.
“‘Mary Poppins’ is more than just dancing on the rooftops with chimney sweeps or making up silly words,” said Watts, who plays Mary Poppins in the Monday/Wednesday/Friday cast. “It is about teaching how to deal with conflict, finding joy in hard times and the importance of charity.”
CPT’s production of “Mary Poppins” will take the stage Feb. 14-March 25 and is set to bring laughs, charm and enchantment to the stage, according to a news release. Directed by Danny Inkley with music direction by Derek Myler and choreography by Addison Welch, the production is performed by two alternating casts.
“I love Danny's style of direction, and I love his vision for the show,” said Shawnee Kennington, who plays Winifred Banks, Jane and Michael’s mother, in the Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday cast. “Everyone has an idea in their head of what ‘Mary Poppins’ should be, and while we do have all of those things in our production, we have so much more. We are really focusing on this broken family and what it will take to put them back together. This show has so much depth and warmth that I believe will take people by surprise.”
Set in the early 1900s, “Mary Poppins” centers on the Banks family. The two children, Jane and Michael Banks, decide to take matters into their own hands when they aren’t thrilled with their parents’ choice for a nanny. Thanks to a little bit of magic, Mary Poppins, the perfect caretaker, shows up on their porch.
“Mary Poppins will take your entire family on a journey filled with memorable, beloved music, boisterous and lively characters, and magic that will whisk you away through chalk drawings and to the rooftops,” the news release states.
One of these characters is Winifred. Kennington said she loves playing this mother role because she feels that women everywhere will be able to relate with Winifred’s struggle and push to make things better for her family.
“Winifred is the heart and the warmth of the show,” she said. “She is trying to do the right thing for her husband and for her children, but they happen to be two different things. The show begins with her just trying to hold her family together while trying to be her own woman.”
Watts and Kennington said they have never played roles that involved so many technical and “magical” elements, which have been both a delight and a challenge to make everything look easy and natural. Watts said that although she loves the spectacle, she has found a lot of joy in the simple moments of the show.
“One of my favorite moments is when Mary and the children come across the bird woman singing ‘Feed the Birds’ outside of St. Paul's Cathedral,” she said. “I love this moment because technically it is very simple. There isn't much movement, magic tricks or dance. It is just a beautiful song, with the beautiful message of taking time to reach out and serve those around you. The song doesn't need any spectacle to make the message come into the hearts of the people listening to it.”
Emma Leishman, who plays Jane Banks in the Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday cast, said that the most challenging part of the process has been accurately portraying her character.
“I always enjoy playing bratty British girls, so I figured this part of Jane Banks would be right up my alley,” she said. “Jane is so much more than I ever expected her to be. Everything she does has a purpose. She knows what she wants; she is just confused on how to get it. She lacks a source of consistent love, and she wants that to change.”
Many of the other actors have grown to love the characters they portray. Aaron Ford, who plays Bert in the Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday cast, said the character has always been his childhood dream role.
“It has been a blast putting my favorite childhood movie to life and a dream come true to play this role,” Ford said. “Bert is a true triple threat. He has to sing, dance and act. It’s been super fun but always a challenge to try to do all three at once.”
With the companionship of lovable Bert, Mary Poppins goes above and beyond her duty as nanny to change the Banks family forever. She teaches the children that “anything can happen if you let it,” which is a good reminder to “never give up on your hopes and dreams,” Ford said.
“This show has so many lessons that Mary tries to teach the children,” Watts said. “She teaches them how to play, look at life through a positive lens and, most importantly, how to love others. I hope the audience walks away from the show feeling more love for the important people in their lives.”
Content advisory: This production is suitable for all audiences, but the theater's minimum age of entry is 3 years old.
If you go …
What: "Mary Poppins"
When: Feb. 24-March 25, Monday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m., with Saturday matinees at 2:30 p.m.
Where: CenterPoint Legacy Theatre, 525 N. 400 West, Centerville
How much: $17.50-$25.50