‘Mary Poppins’ set to charm

The Inter-Mountain photos by Amanda Hayes Olivia Insani, of Clarksburg, was cast in the title role while Buckhannon resident Dannie Stiles is Bert. They are pictured here performing ‘Jolly Holiday’ with other cast members.

BUCKHANNON – Mary Poppins was a dream for rising West Virginia Wesleyan College senior Olivia Insani, but this week that dream comes true as Insani plays the title character in Buckhannon Community Theatre’s production.

“Mary has always been a dream role of mine,” Insani said. “I looked at my parents and they said, ‘It’s going to be a lot of time.’ I said, ‘But, you know I have to audition,’ and they said, ‘Yes, you should.'”

Director Laura Meese said, “While we had a number of excellent young women audition for the role because who doesn’t want to be Mary Poppins, Olivia sounded the part, she looked the part, she danced the part.”

Insani would find out she would play the famous nanny while in Europe.

“I was actually in Ireland on vacation with my boyfriend and his family when I found out,” she said. “We went out and got ice cream as a celebration. They knew it was something I had been wanting for a long time. It’s in my top five roles I have wanted forever and ever. They knew how big a deal it was for me.”

Ella McNeish and Pressley Bowers star as Jane and Michael Banks while Eric Jett and Shelby Williams portray George and Winfred Banks in Buckhannon Community Theatre’s production of ‘Mary Poppins.’

Insani, of Clarksburg, has balanced her role as Mary Poppins and making new friends in BCT while working a summer job.

“It’s been a wonderful experience,” she said. “The people from the BCT community have welcomed me with open arms as if I’m not somebody from 45 minutes away. It’s like I have known them my whole life. The production team has been wonderful to work with. I think my favorite part has just been how welcoming everyone has been – encouraging and also offering to pick up food because they know I am driving here after work every day. They have just been like a family to me.”

Insani said the cast is talented, including the children who have blown her away.

“You can tell that BCT has played such a big part in their upbringing,” she said. “The music is wonderful and it really is a great show for all ages. I would say my favorite scene is ‘Jolly Holiday’ because that is the first time that Jane and Michael get to see Mary’s magic come to life and because it’s such a fun dance number and that involves the entire ensemble.”

“It’s amazing to be one of the characters people have known for their entire lives,” she said. “It’s a big role to fill. It’s one of those that everyone is going to have their expectations of; everyone is going to expect her to be a certain way. I was extremely excited that ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ was before the show because it not only got the community excited for the show but it gave me another reference point other than Julie Andrew’s interpretation to see. Emily Blount’s interpretation is a lot more similar to our script. It was nice seeing someone who interpreted Mary as more of a stern, sarcastic character, which is how I hope to portray her.”

Wesleyan staff member Eric Jett is also making his BCT debut.

Jett said, “I just really enjoyed my experience with the Wesleyan community of actors so I wanted to expand into Buckhannon Community Theatre. It’s been a delight working with Olivia, Shelby [Williams] and with my two kids, as well as Dannie Stiles as Bert.”

Ella McNeish and Pressley Bowers, who play his children Jane and Michael Banks, have been very professional for such young actors, he added.

The story is also something that Jett said he feels families can relate to.

“At the beginning we have an unhappy family and they transition to being a happy family towards the end,” Jett said. “I think that is something that every family can see themselves at some point in that spectrum.”

Stiles is a BCT regular and is excited to be playing the role of Bert.

“It’s a top 10 role that I have wanted to play,” he said. “The whole cast seems like it is a show that we wanted to do and when you have a cast that is passionate about the show, it really makes for a good production. It has been one of my favorite BCT productions.”

Stiles said he brought a little bit of sincerity and comedy to his portrayal of Bert and appreciates that Bert is more developed as a character in the musical versus the movie.

“He is the real driving force of the plot,” Stiles said.

Meese enjoys the pacing in the musical more than the movie as well as the whole family coming together in the end.

“The themes are just more clearly defined and there are better role models for kids in this,” Meese said. “It’s a classic story that has been updated for a modern audience so that it speaks to little boys and girls and parents as well.”

“The biggest difference for me is Winifred,” she said. “Winifred in the movie is a suffragette but it’s also sort of a tongue in cheek making fun of suffragettes. In the musical, Winifred had been an actress. She is a woman who comes into her own. You will see that more in Act 2. She probably has the largest arch from start to finish that is different between the movie and the play and I appreciate it a lot.”

Meese said the entire cast has been lovely to work with and were friendly and hardworking.

“We brought in new faces and BCT regulars,” she said. “I think it was successful for those reasons.”

She also highlighted the work of student director Shawnte McWhorter, a rising senior at Buckhannon-Upshur High School.

“She was not afraid of anything,” Meese said. “She got right to it, she was organized and I was really proud of her.”

McWhorter said, “I’ve learned so many things. When you are part of the cast, you don’t realize all of the work that goes into it — the props, costumes, schedule, casting, and I got to experience what it’s like to do everything.”

McWhorter said she chose some harder scenes to direct to grow as a director.

“I figured there is no point being assistant director if I didn’t push myself to be a director,” she said. “If I just chose scenes that were simple, I wasn’t pushing myself.”

McWhorter said, “There are so many magical points. It’s beautiful, it’s magical and it has plot movement. I can’t wait for everybody to get to experience it.”

BCT received support from WVU Medicine and St. Joseph’s Hospital once again for its production.

Show times are Thursday, July 25-Saturday, July 27 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, July 28 at 2 p.m. in the Virginia Thomas Law Performing Arts Center at WVWC. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased online at www.buckhannoncommunitytheatre.com or in person at Artistry on Main.