Months of hard work and preparation are about to pay off for the cast, crew, chorus and concert band behind Mary Poppins. The show officially opens to the public this weekend.
The Flin Flon Community Choir is preparing for four performances taking over the R.H. Channing Auditorium, the first of which will be May 5 at 7:30 p.m. There will then be a pair of showings May 6 - one at 1 p.m. and a second at 7:30 p.m. - and a final Sunday matinee showing May 7 at 2 p.m. Tickets can be purchased both at the Uptown Emporium on Main Street or at the Flin Flon Arts Council's website at flinflonartscouncil.ca.
The show includes an extensive cast of Flin Flon-area talent, a live orchestra, full sets and light and sound production, as well as a kids chorus. Final dress rehearsals took place earlier this week, ahead of the Friday grand opening. It is the first production of its kind in Flin Flon since 2019, when the choir performed Mamma Mia at the community hall - the group usually holds a major production every two years, but COVID-19 put the kibosh on show boths in 2021 and last year.
Kat Trumbley, for the second consecutive choir musical, fills a main role in this year's musical. She is the performer tasked with becoming the titular nanny of the Banks family, played by Kim Jones (Winifred Banks), Alain Lachapelle (George Banks) and two sets of kids performing as their son Michael and daughter Jane - Thomas Muldoon and Kaleb Olsen take on the role of Michael, while Bridget Wendlandt and Carerra Goring-Pickering each play Jane. Chad Plamondon takes on the role of Bert, the Cockney narrator and good friend of Mary.
The musical maintains some throughlines and characters from the 1964 Disney film classic, while making subtle changes in other ways. The show's scenes range from quiet, melancholy scenes on the rooftops of London to moments within the Banks family home, growing to large, elaborate and colourful moments featuring dozens of performers bursting forth in dance and song.
In the choir's production of Mamma Mia back in 2019, Trumbley played the role of Tanya, one of the main characters of the show. Four years after her last star turn, Trumbley is ready to take to the stage again - she's even developed a British accent to better play the character.
"It’s been good, although I do feel I’m a bit rusty after four years off. I keep saying, 'This was a lot easier when I was 33,' - although my husband says I said the same thing when we were doing Mamma Mia," she said.
"Coming up with a decent British accent has been one of the key things I’ve had to do. Mary is a bit like Tanya from Mamma Mia, in that they are both a bit showy and like to be the centre of attention."
While the cast is all local, organizers have brought in a selection of gifted out-of-towners to help bring the project together. On the soundboard is Marie-Josee Dandeneau, a musician by trade who performed in Flin Flon in 2021 and has returned to help out. A full concert band has been brought in, including a mix of Flin Flon and far-flung talent, to perform during the show - Crystal Kolt, usually the conductor for the choir during the group's major shows, is instead conducting the orchestra.
Ann Hodges takes over the director's chair for the third time for the choir, having previously directed the group's productions of Les Miserables and Mamma Mia. Hodges also directed a production of Mary Poppins at Winnipeg's renowned Rainbow Stage in 2013.
This production for Mary Poppins has had similarities and differences to the past shows, said Hodges, but the energy brought to the stage and to the production as a whole has been infectious.
"I would say what's similar is the energy and the enthusiasm and hard work of all the cast and the backstage crew and all of that. It's really just such a pleasure coming up here and working with the community - everybody works so hard and loves it so much and brings so much joy to the production," she said.
One of Hodges' proteges has come north with her for the show - Madelyn Miyashita, one of Hodges' former students at Sheridan College in Ontario, has joined up as the project's choreographer. The musical is the largest project Miyashita has ever coordinated - one that has brought its own set of lessons and teachings.
"She [Hodges] reached out to me last fall and asked if I would be interested in coming up to Flin Flon. It sounded like a magical project, a magical place and how the whole community comes together to create this fabulous kind of work," she said.
"I was very interested to work with one large group of people - it's the biggest cast I've ever worked with so far in my professional career. I think we're at between 30 and 40 folks on stage, which is a lot for the space and for the size of the community."
Hodges and Miyashita are also working alongside a pair of local directors, Courtney Lycan and Natalie Milligan, both of whom are experienced within Flin Flon's performing arts scene. Milligan played one of the key roles during Mamma Mia alongside Trumbley four years ago.
Trumbley said the hardest part for her in preparing for the show was making her own, bespoke version of Mary Poppins - taking inspiration from previous portrayals without lifting anything entirely.
"I didn’t want to try to do a carbon copy of Julie Andrews’ performance [in the 1964 film] - I wouldn’t do it justice if I tried and this Mary is a bit different than the movie and the story is a bit different as well. I wanted to have some elements of Julie Andrews’ Mary because people know that version so well. That can be a bit of a tricky line to walk, but Ann is an amazing director and Natalie and Courtney have been fabulous assistant directors and they all have been so helpful in getting me to find my Mary," she said.
Both Hodges and Miyashita sang the praises of the cast members and crew alike, all of whom are taking on the performance on a volunteer basis. No professional actors or singers are in the cast - everyone either has a day job or, in the case of the children's cast and chorus, is in school.
"There are some people who are doing this for the very first time and now they're commanding the stage and really sort of stepping up. There's been real excitement about the four children who are playing Jane and Michael - they all started, auditioned and they got the parts and we've been slowly working," Hodges said.
"I think the growth of the children and the cast as they've learned that they can command the stage and they can act and they can sing and they can dance - that's been super exciting to see that happen."
"Some people thought they might have had two left feet at the beginning of production - now they're on stage dancing," said Miyashita.
"The warmth is something I've never felt in my life before from a community. I had five people offer to drive me home on the first day. Everyone was so excited to be there and when everyone has other obligations, they have families to attend to, jobs to attend to, whatever the world needs from them and they're still making the time to come here and spend four or five hours with us every weeknight, then up to eight hours on the weekends, it's just a beautiful thing. I'm so inspired by the passion that pours out of this community for the arts."
Trumbley said people coming to the show can expect to see the kind of musical production Flin Flon's choir and arts community has become known for - an extravagant celebration of the story and its characters.
"There are fantastic performances, awesome dance numbers and wonderful sets. At the heart of it is a beautiful story about a family coming together (with a little help) and figuring out what matters most," she said.