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Learning to fly: 'Mary Poppins' musical opens Thursday in Detroit Lakes

"When you're with a sweep, you're in glad company," proclaims Bert (Caleb McKenzie) to Mary Poppins (Alex Day) in a scene from the fall musical, "Mary Poppins," opening Thursday, Nov. 1 at Detroit Lakes Middle School's George Simson Auditorium. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)1 / 5
As portrayed by Alex Day, the musical's titular character of Mary Poppins is "practically perfect in every way." (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)2 / 5
Robertson Ay (Ben Heimark) and Mrs. Brill (Kelsie Heyer) discuss their lives as servants in the household of George and Winifred Banks during a scene from "Mary Poppins." (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)3 / 5
To the disapproval of their father, George Banks (Grant Gallatin, second from right) and the delight of their mother Winifred (Maren Goldsten, at right), Michael and Jane Banks (Micah and Hannah Barberg) illustrate their requirements for a new nanny with a little song and dance. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)4 / 5
Miss Andrew (Natalie Eidenschink, at left), George Banks' first nanny, whom he not-so-affectionally dubbed 'the Holy Terror,' talks to a skeptical Mrs. Banks (Maren Goldstein) about her expectations of any children put in her charge. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)5 / 5

Chim, chim, cheroo! "Mary Poppins," the 'supercalifragilisticexpialidocious' musical adventure, is set to open on the stage of Detroit Lakes Middle School's George Simson Auditorium this Thursday, Nov. 1 — and in preparation, the cast and crew of roughly 100 aspiring thespians are busy putting the finishing touches on an ambitious production that brings such memorable tunes as "Step in Time," "Jolly Holiday" and "A Spoonful of Sugar" to soaring life.

Countless hours of rehearsal have gone into the effort, as many of the scenes involve not only spoken dialogue (in a British accent, no less!), but singing, dancing, and occasionally, even flying.

Yes, flying: This past Wednesday and Thursday, Sean Roschman from ZFX Flying was in town, taking the "flight crew" and cast members through the intricate process of creating the illusion of traveling "o'er the rooftops of London" as if buoyed by magic.

Much like he did for "The Little Mermaid" two years ago, Roschman spent several hours with both cast and crew, ensuring that they had their visual and auditory cues down pat so Mary, Bert and their companions could enjoy a safe flight during each and every performance.

Since rehearsals started in September, the group has gotten to know each other well, as becomes readily apparent when the main cast members sit down for an interview together.

"Mary Poppins is a magical nanny who comes in and 'fixes' the Banks family," says Alex Day, the actress who brings the titular character to life. "She has these magical powers, but she never acknowledges them... she's very prim and proper."

"I prefer to think of them (i.e., Mary's powers) as spiritual rather than magical," interjects the musical's director, Kathy Larson, noting that Mary's companion, Bert, and his fellow chimney sweeps act as "guardian angels" over the Banks family at times.

Not that Bert is always so angelic.

"Bert is a happy go lucky jack of all trades," says his portrayer, Caleb McKenzie, noting that his character is "a painter, a scrivener, a lamplighter, and a chimney sweep, of course."

"He takes on all those thankless roles in life, that no one ever appreciates unless you take them away," adds Mark Everson, Larson's assistant director.

"He helps Mary with everything that she needs to get done," says McKenzie, explaining Bert's frequent occupational changes throughout the show.

"But he kind of gets us in a little trouble at one point," interjects Micah Barberg, who plays Michael, the younger of George and Winifred Banks' two children.

"Sometimes Mary gets a little upset with me," acknowledges McKenzie, speaking in character.

Though Mary can occasionally appear somewhat stern, admonishing the Banks children — and Bert — for their behavior, she inspires affection rather than rebellion or resentment, which has often been the Banks children's reaction to nannies in the past.

"Jane's sort of a brat," says Hannah Barberg, who is Micah's sister in real life as well as portraying his sibling in the production. "We're shuttled from nanny to nanny because we're both brats."

Micah agreed, but added, "We treat them so poorly because our parents never really taught us manners, or how to behave."

Their pranks and rebellious behavior are, in fact, a direct result of their parents' neglect.

"They don't have time for us," says Micah, speaking in character as Michael.

"They ignore us," Hannah agreed.

When Mary Poppins sails into their lives, she not only remedies the children's errant behavior, but their parents' as well.

"George Banks' back story is interesting," says his portrayer, Grant Gallatin. "He calls his nanny 'the Holy Terror'... I think he's a little damaged (from his childhood experiences). She was very strict and militaristic... and she taught him everything he knows. His parents were pretty much absent. He's not trying to make mistakes... the Banks children are being raised in the environment that he knows.

"Mary Poppins is there to help break that cycle," he added, noting that as the play goes on, George "learns to become a better father and a better husband. He learns what's important in life."

Winifred Banks, by contrast, is much more loving — but like George, she's very much a product of her upbringing.

"I was told I was the boring parent," laughs Maren Goldstein, who portrays Winifred. "I would prefer (to say) good influence, but I'll take it.

"Winifred is a former actress, and she's very dedicated to making her family happy," Goldstein added. "She's devoted to George."

But because of the way wives are taught to behave toward their husbands, she rarely objects to George's decisions — as the story unfolds, however, "she becomes more independent," Goldstein said, adding that when George gets into trouble at work, "she goes to save her husband."

In the end, of course, Mary Poppins succeeds in her task, and flies off to her next task, leaving a much closer, loving and happy family in her wake.

Presented by the Detroit Lakes Public Schools, "Mary Poppins" will take the stage for five planned performances at George Simson Auditorium: Nov. 1, 3, 8 and 10 at 7:30 p.m., and Nov. 4 at 3 p.m. — a Sunday matinee. Tickets are on sale at Central Market in Detroit Lakes, at a cost of $10 per person.

Cast List (in order of appearance)

• Bert: Caleb McKenzie

• George Banks: Grant Fritch Gallatin

• Winifred Banks: Maren Goldstein

• Jane Banks: Hannah Barberg

• Michael Banks: Micah Barberg

• Katie Nanna: Annika Gulseth

• Policeman: Hunter Cheska

• Miss Lark: Mirella Grimm

• Admiral Boom: Danny Heikes

• Mrs. Brill: Kelsie Heyer

• Robertson Ay: Ben Heimark

• Mary Poppins: Alex Day

• Park Keeper: Kris Wilkins

• Neleus: Thomas McKenzie

• Queen Victoria: Hope Hansen

• Bank Chairman: Sully Wood

• Miss Smythe: Annika Hughes

• Von Hussler: Noah Hendrickson

• Northbrook: Micah Solberg

• Birdwoman: Breanna Price

• Mrs. Corry: Annie Houglum

• Fannie Corry: Taylor Tucker

• Annie Corry: Gracee Traurig

• Miss Andrew: Natalie Eidenschink

• Featured Dancers: Maci Bellefeuille, Peyton Eischens, Trisha Gebhart, Mirella Grimm, Hannah Hagen, Sammy Maier, Malia McKenzie, Josie Sletmoen, Brittany Stearns, Jade Tolbert, Gracee Traurig, Taylor Tucker

• Ensemble (park strollers, customers, kite flyers, chimney sweeps, bankers): Kaitlyn Bridgeman, Kennedy Bridgeman, Hunter Cheska, Anna Cihak, Sammy Collins, Natalie Eidenschink, Leah Flugel, Grace Friesen, Annika Gulseth, Cooper Gulseth, Hope Hansen, Tahlia Haas, Danny Heikes, Ben Heimark, Ethan Hendrickson, Noah Hendrickson, Annie Houglum, Kielee Hubbard, Annika Hughes, Mercedes Jesness, Victor Jimenez, Elijah Kitzmann, Hayden Lacher, Abby Larson, Emily Larson, Lauren McDougall, Thomas McKenzie, Abigale Moen, Andrew Nunn, Breanna Price, Gretta Schulberg, Brielle Solberg, Micah Solberg, Ben Stearns, Jarrett Stelter, Lily Sundby, Siri Vagle, Avery Walz, Questis Wiedenbach, Kris Wilkins, Sully Wood

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 18-plus years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Detroit Lakes School Board. 

(218) 844-1454
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