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Mary Poppins’ Magic Comes to Spring Hill

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On August 12 – 14, Stage West Playhouse will present “Mary Poppins, Jr.” This delightful musical isn’t based on the popular Disney film, it’s more like the stage play. There will be three performances−7:30 pm on Friday and 2:00 pm on Saturday and Sunday.

Savannah Smith directs a cast of thirty students−the youngest being five years of age, while the oldest is eighteen. Ms. Smith, herself, is only eighteen and although she has been involved in theatre since she was eleven years old, this is her first time directing. “I always love to play the villain,” Savannah states. “My absolute favorite part was as Miss Adelaide in ‘Guys and Dolls Jr.’ I love roles that challenge you and this was a challenge, but the payoff was indescribable.”

Almost all of the crew are eighteen or younger as well as the stage manager, assistant stage manager, and lighting operator. Although adults have been there to offer guidance and supervision, the show has been a youth-driven production. Many of these young people have had theatre experience, but some have not. Ms. Smith and the cast have rehearsed for several weeks to come up with an almost flawless performance.

Lily Sokolowski plays the lead−the magical nanny who comes to take care of the Banks children, Jane and Michael. At seventeen, Lily has had thirteen years of dance and music experience and seven years of performing in musicals. If you’re a regular patron of Stage West, you may remember her as the nurse in “Death by Chocolate,” and Louisa, one of the Von Trapp children, in “The Sound of Music.” Of all the roles she’s had, Lily considers her current role as her favorite because it’s the lead and because it’s a fun challenge to play someone who is such an iconic and well-loved character. “I just love that feeling you get when you’re on stage. The energy from the audience is something that can’t be compared to anything,” Lily remarks. Although she enjoys singing, dancing, and acting immensely, Lily admits that it “took me a long time to break out of my shell to be able to fully embody a character.” As she became more experienced, she gradually gained confidence in herself.

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Stephen Lucash plays Bert, the chimney sweep−a role made famous by Dick Van Dyke. Stephen has enjoyed this role because “Bert is just the happiest guy you could ever meet and I like to be that way outside of theatre and bring joy to everyone.” He’s seventeen and has been acting for two years. Stephen’s favorite role, so far, has been playing Gomez in “The Addams Family” at Weeki Wachee High School. “It was just a fun and different experience. That’s the best thing about theatre. You can do so many different things. Seeing the joy on people’s faces after you perform is rewarding.” Like many performers, stage fright is a challenge for Stephen. Putting the whole show together and making sure everything goes smoothly is also challenging.

Thirteen-year-old Holly Doyaga plays the part of Michael Banks. She’s been involved in theatre for seven years and started performing in grade school. “One of my favorite roles was Templeton in “Charlotte’s Web” at my school because he was a sassy character,” remarks Holly. Another of her favorites was playing the lead in “Annie” because it was her first big role. What she finds most rewarding about acting is the praise she gets from the audience after she finishes a performance. She feels it makes all the hard work and stress worthwhile.

For Holly, the stress you get as it grows closer to show time can be challenging−trying to not forget her lines, etc. Sometimes the show is chaotic as well. Holly admits that playing a boy in “Mary Poppins, Jr.” was difficult, but it was also refreshing playing something so different from who she normally is. She also enjoys the fact that it’s a comedic role.

Ten-year-old Bella Sowards has been involved in theatre for four years, both at school and at Stage West. Her favorite roles have been Marta Von Trapp in “The Sound of Music” and her current role as Jane Banks. “I like this role because I’ve never had the chance to experience a major part before, but it’s hard work to memorize all the lines and the songs.”

One of the things Holly finds most rewarding about acting is that she gets to meet new friends and bond with the directors and the other cast members. She sums up the feelings of just about every actor when she states, “I just really like to act.”

Juggling her other activities, such as dance competitions, with her acting responsibilities can be challenging. Sometimes she had to miss rehearsals because of other commitments and because she was sick for a while. However, she was able to watch the rehearsals on video in order to get back in step.

Ms. Smith remarks, “That moment when the audience just erupts and you know you’ve done it, I want to bottle up that feeling and sell it, and I cannot wait until my kids feel it themselves!”

Enthusiasm and passion are contagious and that could be one reason why all four of these cast members would like to pursue a career in theatre. Lily wants to attend college and obtain a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with a major in Theatre. Stephen hopes to specialize in musical theatre. Holly’s dream is to perform on Broadway and Bella would also like to go into musical theatre when she gets older. From the caliber of their performances in “Mary Poppins, Jr., ” it looks like they have a bright future ahead of them.

To purchase tickets for the show, go online to www.stagewestflorida.com or by calling the box office Tuesday – Saturday, 10 am – 2 pm at 352-683-5113. The theatre is located at 8390 Forest Oaks Blvd. in Spring Hill.

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