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‘Mary Poppins’ takes flight as SM South presents musical’s Midwest premiere

Rose Smithson as Mary Poppins and Zach Greer as Bert at Shawnee Mission South High School.
Rose Smithson as Mary Poppins and Zach Greer as Bert at Shawnee Mission South High School.

The magical, high-flying musical classic “Mary Poppins” opens tonight in Shawnee Mission South Theatre, the first high school in the Midwest to produce the show.

Mark Swezey, director of theater at South, learned last fall from the Music International Theatre website that rights to “Mary Poppins” might become available later to a limited number of high schools.

“I stayed with it and sure enough it did become available to six high schools nationwide. I jumped on it that day,” Swezey said. “No other high school in the Midwest has rights to it.”

A professional crew handles the flying but everything else is done by students — the cast, the backstage workers, the full-sized orchestra and the elaborate sets. “It’s quite a feat,” Swezey said.

Mary Poppins, the “Practically Perfect” nanny who arrives with her bag full of magic tricks to rescue the troubled Banks family and their two misbehaving children, is portrayed by Rose Smithson, a junior at South.

“The show is spectacular,” Rose said. “It’s the best role I’ve had. But it can be exhausting with the singing, dancing and flying. It is physically challenging.”

Her past roles include Robin in “Godspell,” Wendy in “Peter Pan” and Emma in “Jekyll & Hyde.”

“The flying doesn’t bother me. I flew in ‘Peter Pan’ so I knew what to expect. Heights don’t bother me, either. It’s exciting,” Rose, 17, said. “The flying scenes are important because they bring the show together.”

Zach Greer, 16, plays Bert, a mysterious man with ragged clothes, a dirty face and many professions, including flying over rooftops and chimney sweeping. “Flying was a new experience. I’m kind of afraid of heights so I was a little apprehensive when they put me in the harness,” he said. “But when they got me up there, about 20 feet up, I wasn’t afraid at all. They even had me doing back-flips and flying over rooftops.

“More challenging was learning to tap dance for the ‘Step in Time’ scene,” Zach said. “I have to do my practicing in the garage, not in the house.”

Laura Kariuki, 16, a junior, portrays Mrs. Corry, who runs the magic “talking shop” and makes gingerbread stars for children. “I sell words like ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ which we sing and spell the letters with our hands while we dance,” Laura explained. “It took a few weeks to get that down,” she added with a laugh.

Parker Winkler, a senior, is the stage manager for the show. He has been either stage manager or a member of the backstage crew for shows at South all four years he’s been in school. “I have performed on stage occasionally in minor roles but I like the technical work back stage more than acting.”

The details

“Mary Poppins” plays today, Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. with a matinee at 2 p.m. Saturday in Shawnee Mission South Theatre at 5800 W. 107th St. in Overland Park. Admission is $10, free with a Shawnee Mission South ID.

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