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NEIGHBORS: Looking for something fun to see this weekend? Head to Decatur for “Mary Poppins”

DECATUR – Enter a world of magic where chimney sweeps dance on rooftops, toys come to life and one famous nanny flies through the air.

“’Mary Poppins'” is all about magic and being able to accomplish anything if you set your mind to it,” said director Lauren Cantrell Salerno. “I feel like after this past year, coming out of this time of quarantine and getting over the pandemic, we need a bit of magic in our lives and we need a bit of togetherness.”

Dream Weavers Children’s Theatre will present “Mary Poppins: The Broadway Musical” this weekend at the Princess Theatre in downtown Decatur. The show will open on Friday at 7 p.m. with additional performances on Saturday at 2 and 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets cost $18 for adults and $15 for students and seniors.

Expect to hear the classic songs “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” “Jolly Holiday,” “A Spoonful of Sugar,” “Feed the Birds,” “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” as well as new songs “Playing the Game” and “Anything Can Happen.”

While some of the songs and scenes will be familiar to fans of “Mary Poppins,” the musical brings a new look at the iconic story, which is based on books by P.L. Travers and the original Walt Disney film starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. Julian Fellowes, creator of “Downtown Abbey,” wrote the book for the Broadway musical.

“It is pretty different. Some of the songs are in different places, there are some new characters and some of the characters are different than in the movie. It draws heavily from Travers’ book in that way,” Salerno said.

Leading the 75-member cast is EA Gonzalez as Mary Poppins.

To prepare for the role of Mary, Gonzalez, who described the character as having more of a bite and an edge than in the movie, studied how the different actresses cast as Mary Poppins played the role.

“The good thing about this character is that, by now, because there have been so many professional productions of the musical version, so many fantastic women have played Mary. They all sound different and bring something new to the table. It has been fun for me to piece together my Mary,” Gonzalez said.

One of Gonzalez’s favorite moments occurs when she sings “Feed the Birds” with Susan Thompson.

“It’s beautiful and iconic and important. It’s a good moment of depth for Mary. There is so much magic and so much whimsy, this song kind of brings her back to Earth and reminds the children how important it is to see people for who they are,” Gonzalez said. “Also, to be able to share the stage with Susan is a treat.”

Tasked with bringing to life the role of Bert, the character made famous by Van Dyke, is Drew Sybert.

“Dick Van Dyke is obviously a legend. This character is so rich, though, it’s easy to put your own spin and personality into it and still be that familiar character people know,” Sybert said. “I think my Bert is fun, pretty silly and has lots of energy all the time.”

For the main children’s roles of Jane and Michael Banks, Salerno double cast the characters. Mary Reed McMasters and Avery Early will share the role of Jane, and Aiden Hodges and Joshua Minnon will play Michael.

“Only two children are in the show as it is originally written and I wanted give as much opportunity to the kids as possible,” Salerno said. “We also created an ensemble of 25 children, who join in on the big numbers and a song where the toys come to life.”

For Minnon, the role of Michael represents a dream.

“I was at soccer practice when I found out I got the part of Michael. I was so happy,” the 12-year-old Minnon said. “I have watched the movie almost every day since then. I love this play so much.”

Along with Sybert, Gonzalez, McMasters, Early, Hodges and Minnon, the cast features Brandon McLemore as George Banks, Melissa McMahan as Winifred Banks, Amber Eckenrode as Katie Nanna, Collin Riddell as Robertson Ay, Debra Davenport as Mrs. Brill, Ben Callahan as Admiral Boom, Courtney Blanchette as Miss Andrew, Emily Williquette as Mrs. Correy and Thompson as bird woman.

For the first time, Dream Weavers will present a sensory-friendly performance of “Mary Poppins.” During the matinee on Saturday, the house lights won’t be as low, and talking and moving around will be allowed. Salerno also will make a list of actions and events to expect in the play.

“It is really important that everyone should be able to be themselves and experience live theater without worry,” Salerno said. “We should do a sensory-friendly show for every production, no question, especially shows for kids.”

With more than 125 people auditioning for the musical, Salerno sees an interest and love for the performing arts increasing in Decatur.

“I feel like Decatur is on the cusp of something big. It feels like we are desperate for the arts and that we are craving them. The energy is here. This is a great show to bring that energy and magic to the Princess,” Salerno said.

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