Union High School puts on ‘Mary Poppins’

UNION, NJ — The upcoming Union High School production of “Mary Poppins” will be an opportunity for students to soar, literally and figuratively, in an emotional re-imagining of the popular children’s story. Performances of the musical will be held at the school from Thursday, March 10, to Sunday, March 13, and again on Friday, March 18, through Sunday, March 20.

Audiences might be familiar with the show’s characters, who became household names following the 1964 Disney film adaption.

“Since it’s a classic, and it’s something we all grew up with, it’s really interesting and rewarding to be able to play these characters we knew as kids,” said UHS junior Leanne Laurino, who will be playing the servant Mrs. Brill. “It’s going to be interesting for audiences to come in and watch a more emotional, deeper version of the show.”

But even though students will be playing characters with whom they grew up, the similarities between the movie and musical are, otherwise, few and far between.

The Union High School production is a deeper, more complex take on the events of a story that, at its heart, is an uplifting and heartwarming tale, students said. To that end, the script zeroes in on the character progression of George Banks, played by Joe Laurino, who had a secondary role in the Disney film.

“This is nothing like the movie. When people think of their favorite Disney movie, they think of more magical things — ‘The Little Mermaid,’ ‘Beauty and the Beast’ — but I think the musical is much better than the movie. It represents the themes of saving Mr. Banks, what family really means and becoming a better person,” said Ashley Figueiredo, who stars as Mary Poppins. “I think the musical does a much better job of showing that, and it’s also much more magical. It’s right in front of your eyes, you’re seeing these things come to life — people flying, and stuff like that. That makes the experience much more special.”

The musical also highlights other subjects glossed over in the film, according to director James Mosser. So the students have been “dissecting the story and working to personalize their connection” to these themes, such as discipline, following your dreams, believing in yourself and “seeing the world through a lens of creativity,” along with the evolution of women’s rights, he said.

Mosser is working with 37 students, including seven elementary school-level dancers, to illustrate those themes and turn the spring show — Union High School’s largest of the year — into a special event.

Dozens of others are also heavily involved with putting Mary Poppins together, including Union High School musicians who will be playing in the balcony to the AP art students who are helping build the show’s set, which was a point of emphasis for the actors.

“The set is really interesting, because it’s interactive. For us, as actors, it’s not just a painting of a house, it’s literally a house. It’s not just a picture of some stairs, it’s actual stairs we can go up. It’s not a backdrop,” said Figueiredo. “The scenery is very real, and it adds to the show.”

For the seniors involved in Mary Poppins, like Figueiredo and Jonathan Duvalson, who plays the fun-loving Bert, the experience of performing in their last-ever show at Union High School is surreal.

When Figueiredo sings goodbye as Mary Poppins, in the show, “it touches my heart when I do that,” she says. The experience is no less emotional for Duvalson, who is auditioning with several college theater programs this month.

“It’s a little sad. Sad, yet exciting, because it’s time that we move on to new journeys. Me and Ashley have been partners in crime since our eighth-grade year, and now that we’ve gotten to our senior year, it’s sentimental,” said Duvalson. “We’re finishing off our career as Mary and Bert. It’s a nice feeling knowing that she’s going to be beside me, at the end.”

As emotional as it might be to end his time with the school’s theater program, though, Duvalson is glad he was able to capture the joy of theater in his time at Union High School.

“I like the way that theater allows you to embrace your imaginative side without being shamed, in a sense. If you’re at home, and someone sees you’re playing pretend, it’s weird — ‘you’re 17, what are you doing?’” said Duvalson. “But on-stage, you still get to express yourself without being judged. You get to inspire others, and I think that’s pretty awesome.”

Student pricing for Mary Poppins will be available to all Union students with a valid Union ID. Visit www.uhspac.com for more information and to purchase tickets.