By Barbara Trainin Blank
While Kensington Area Theatre presents a musical with a bleak world view, its Second Stage Family Theatre is offering the epitome of optimism. After all, the heroine of the musical “Mary Poppins” believes: “Anything can happen if you let it.”
“Mary Poppins Jr.,” the youth edition of the Olivier and Tony Award-nominated Broadway musical, based on the wildly popular Julie Andrews film, is authorized by Disney and co-produced by Cameron Mackintosh.
Second Stage is a theater program “by kids, 4 kids,” said Fred Zirm, who is directing.
The plot is well known: in the troubled Banks family, the children, Jane and Michael, have sent many a nanny packing before the magical but commonsensical Mary Poppins arrives on their doorstep. Along with a host of lovable characters, such as Bert the chimney sweep, must teach the family members how to value each other again.
Ava Silberman, who’s playing the title role, has enjoyed a happier family experience than the Banks start out with. She has been acting since childhood, and doing ‘gigs’ for her mom’s company – which hires entertainment for events. She’s also worked with Spotlight Musical Theatre and participated in a “bunch of shows” with Second Stage.
“‘Mary Poppins Jr. is a show I did before, but not as Mary Poppins,” said Silberman, a seventh-grader at Charles E. Smith-Jewish Day School. “It’s always been one of my dream roles. That and Miss Hannigan in ‘Annie’ are the roles I most wanted to play.”
She remembers watching both movies with her families “constantly.’ “They were the first musicals I ever enjoyed,” Silberman said.
Having won the Mary Poppins role, Ava finds its most-difficult aspect is “tying together all the sides of the nanny with an umbrella – “She’s whimsical, yet mild-mannered; firm with the children, yet kind and motherly. She combines opposites.”
Dancing, is of course, a key element to “Mary Poppins,” in any edition, especially in the song “Step in Time.” Most of the choreography for the Second Stage production Ian Brown Gorrell, but he gets an assist from 14-year-old Giorgia Dallasta, now doing her seventh show with Second Stage – this time as dance captain.
“My favorite roles were Annie and Matilda,” said Dallasta, an eighth-grader at Lakelands Park Middle School who trains both with McG Studio in Gaithersburg as well as the Broadway Artists Alliance of New York City, the latter for acting, voice and dance.
Dallasta said Brown-Gorrell and Zirm have given her “a lot of responsibility” to work with the cast and help with some of the choreography in all the numbers,” she said. “There are a few kids in the cast who had some dance experience, but most had very little. I enjoy leading all the actors, while we are on stage and helping them learn the steps so that the dances are amazing for our audiences.”
Her biggest challenge, explained Dallasta, is “getting all the actors on the same page. I have learned from Mr. Brown-Gorrell how to break down a dance to teach it, which will also make me a better dancer.”
The dance captain finds her role one of the “most enjoyable” she’s had. “Though I like playing characters, this show has let me see a production from a different viewpoint.”
The Second Stage program features young performers age eight to 18. Previous productions have included “Peter Pan Jr.,” “Into the Woods Jr.,” “The Wizard of Oz,” and “Aladdin Jr.”
Other beloved “Mary Poppins” songs include “A Spoonful of Sugar,” “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!” and “Feed the Birds.” Oh, yes. Zirm promises there will be kites flying.
Arielle Bayer is the music director.
“Mary Poppins Jr.” runs Nov. 9 through Nov. 11 at BlackRock Center for the Arts, 12901 Town Commons Drive, in Germantown. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Friday, 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, and 3 p.m. Sunday. For more information, call 301-528-2260, or visit: www.blackrockcenter.org/family-programming.