By JOHN GORALSKI
Critics must have thought them crazy when school officials settled on “Mary Poppins” for this year’s middle school play.
It’s a performance that would challenge even the most veteran American actors with its need for accents and singing. It’s a production that requires spectacular settings and lighting challenges to accommodate the magic and special effects.
But after 10 years of putting on productions, students at John F. Kennedy and Joseph A. DePaolo middle schools were up to the challenge.
“Your readers should come see this production because I think they’ll be impressed with the talent from our middle school kids,” said Chris Palmieri, the play’s director. “It’s gotten to the point where you don’t even realize that they are middle school kids when you see the amount of talent that we have up on that stage. They’ve done a phenomenal job.”
When curtains open this week, the performance will mark a full decade of collaborative plays between the two local middle schools. It’s beginning to develop a strong community with interest throughout both schools as the actors and stagehands come together for a common purpose.
“So many times, we think of them as two middle schools. We have sports, and it’s a competitive atmosphere. It’s always about Kennedy versus DePaolo, but this is a chance to get both schools together,” Palmieri said. “New friendships are forming, and they’re working together for a common goal. Just like we do in sports, we stress the importance of working together as a team.”
There are a lot of moving parts. The play will feature 113 students in the cast and another 45 students in the crew, with full chorale ensembles and choreographed dances that fill the stage. Well-known songs like “Chim Chim Cher-ee” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” are sure to get the audience rocking and rolling.
Every job from stagehand to lighting is handled by the students, and it comes together for a colorful spectacle.
“Every single one of them has a critical role, whether it’s handling a spotlight or the props,” Palmieri said. “Whether they’re in the ensemble or Mary Poppins herself. They are all just as important. They have to come together to put on this production.”
The Broadway musical is a merging of the children’s books by P.L. Travers and the 1964 Disney film. It has become a stage classic. First staged in 2004, the play has been performed professionally across Australia, Europe, and North America.
“I chose the show because I thought it was kid-friendly, but it also gave me the opportunity to get so many kids involved,” Palmieri said. “There’s a lot of familiarity with it because they know the songs, and they know the story. It has a great message about the importance of family, but it’s really about seeing all the talents of our kids and getting them all involved in the production. What we really want to do here is bring them all together and have a good show.”
The show will be staged at Kennedy Middle School on March 26, 27, 28 and April 1 and 2. There will be a matinee for local fifth graders aimed at easing their transition into the middle schools next year, and there’s a free performance for local seniors.
“Our audiences have traditionally sold out. I think the community benefits, and I know that the kids benefit from this,” said Palmieri. “We invite Mulberry Gardens, Calendar House, and the Orchards free of charge. We just want them to come in and enjoy it. It’s a way to give back to the community.”
You will not be disappointed. The sets are magical. The special effects are well-rehearsed. The only question that remains is, “Will she fly?” You have to buy a ticket to find out.
Admission costs $7 for adults ($4 for students) and can be purchased from any cast or crew member, or by calling DePaolo Middle School at (860) 628-3260. Proceeds from the performances will go toward defraying the expenses associated with the production.