'Mary Poppins' a family affair

Greg MacLeod as Mr Banks with son Lucas playing Michael Banks alongside co-stars Grace Johnston as Jane Banks and Kelly Hocking as Mrs Banks. Photos: Supplied.
Greg MacLeod as Mr Banks with son Lucas playing Michael Banks alongside co-stars Grace Johnston as Jane Banks and Kelly Hocking as Mrs Banks. Photos: Supplied.
Arlie McCormick as the Birdwoman.
Arlie McCormick as the Birdwoman.
Sam McCormick as Jane.
Sam McCormick as Jane.

Mary Poppins is about  family, dysfunctional as it may be. For four of the Taieri Musical and DKCM production’s actors it is also about family, as Rebecca Fox discovers.

When Lucas MacLeod found out his dad would also play his father in Mary Poppins - the Broadway Musical his face fell.

It was not the reaction his father, Greg, expected.

''Lucas' face dropped to the bottom of the sea. He was not delighted, no.''

For Lucas, landing the role of Michael Banks in the musical was amazing and he wanted to keep the kudos to himself.

''I was hoping it was just going to be my show.''

''I'm sorry I stole your thunder,'' Greg, who was cast as George Banks, says.

It was not a total surprise though, given he is a regular treading the boards and Lucas (9) aspires to follow in his footsteps.

Rehearsals have often dominated the Broad Bay teaching principal's free time, leaving Lucas waiting to see him.

''He'd often peer out from his bunk, having not gone to sleep. This way we get to hang out together.

''It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. A real priviledge.''

Working with his dad meant Lucas got to see what he did first hand: ''In the show he does get pretty scary.''

MacLeod has even grown a waxed moustache to fit the part - something neither of his kids are too fond of.

Arlie McCormick, who plays the Birdwoman, agrees. Her daughter Sam (10) plays Jane Banks, Michael's sister.

''I don't think we'll get a chance like this again where the kids have such big roles.''

It was nice that a ''moment'' had been worked into the show for the Birdwoman and Jane, she said.

''She does have to be mean to me but we have this eye-catching moment, which is special.''

The McCormicks are also a theatre family and moving from Australia recently meant they missed out on taking part in a production of Matlida, so for both to get into Mary Poppins was great.

''It's been great for me to see Sammy do this. My family have all done loads of theatre and I reckon she's better than all of us. My mum is coming from Australia to see the show.''

Lucas and Sam are one of two sets of the Banks' siblings and will perform alternatively with Grace Johnston and Joseph Kelly.

DKCM managing director Doug Kamo said two sets of children were required due to the workload of these roles.

''They are the only characters in the show that are in every scene, so we need to be mindful of them getting tired and looking after their voices. Professional cast members have upwards of five sets of children.''

The pair had to let their inner naughty child out for the production.

''She's a little girl who is very bratty and show-offy. The two kids are very spoiled,'' Sam said.

Lucas said he struggled with being so naughty.

Their relationship with Mary Poppins develops as the show goes on and they come to adore her.

''It's an age-old story about family and it's very moving at the end so I can see why it's lasted,'' McCormick said.

''The husband is always working . It's a broken family and Mary fixes them.''

The mystery about Mary and her almost magical and knowing ways kept people guessing.

It is a big commitment for the children who were rehearsing five or six days a week.

''It's very tiring,'' Lucas said.

There were singing and dancing rehearsals as well as having to learning their lines and the vocabulary of Edwardian London.

While having their parents on set meant having to ''work hard and not show off'', their dedication to the show had surprised some. Lucas even had his ''shaggy beach hair'' cut short into a more formal English style.

''They've really stepped up.''

McCormick, who teaches musical theatre at the University of Otago, said she would like to see that sort of dedication, energy and drive in her 20-year-old students.

Their favourite scene was the famous ''Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious'' one where Mary Poppins bursts into song using the word to describe her win in an unorthodox race.

Sam admits learning to say the word was hard.

It meant they went from school to any other after-school commitment, home for tea and then to rehearsals.

''Then we sleep and do it all again,'' Sam said.

The parents said their children's schools had been very understanding of what the pair were doing.

As a teacher, MacLeod supported pupils taking these opportunities, believing they learn life-long skills in the process.

''I'm happy for this to be his homework. There is nothing better. Learning outside school can be meaningful.''

To see
Mary Poppins — The Broadway Musical, Regent Theatre, tonight until May 27.

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