When it came to staging this year’s school play, Central Public School took a unique approach: by casting pretty much the entire student population in it.
All of the students in grades 1 to 6 have some sort of part in Mary Poppins Jr., which will be performed Tuesday and Wednesday evenings at the Sydenham Street elementary school, while the grades 7 and 8 students will form the orchestra.
By involving pretty much the entire school save the kindergarteners, you get the chance to include children who might not otherwise take part.
“Sometimes those kids who don’t have quite the gumption or the courage to try out, they miss out,” director Andrew Cotton explained.
The last production, staged a couple of years ago, was Jungle Book, and the cast was comprised of students from grades 1 to 4. The cast was initially expanded to include grades 5 and 6 because there was such a wealth of talent in the school, Cotton said.
And, as the head of the school choir, he is very familiar with the students’ abilities. While some students were a bit reluctant at first, he thinks they “really do end up loving it.”
With such a sprawling cast of 120 or so students, the lead roles are often split between two of them. While most musicals would see one actor perform one night, the other the next, this production divides the play in half. For example, the first act will see one student playing Mary, with the other student cast as the magical nanny taking over in the second act. Mary No. 1 then takes Mary No. 2’s spot in the choir, as do many of the other Act 1 leads.
The hardest part is getting each of the students onstage and having everyone where they’re supposed to be, Cotton said.
“My philosophy is every child should have a spotlight on them at some point in their lives,” he said. “Adults, we don’t get the spotlight on us, but I want every child leaving this school to have that spotlight moment.”
Staging Mary Poppins Jr. has been a lot of work for the students, staff, and parents, he said.
“This has been so exciting. A month ago, we’re thinking, ‘We’re never doing this again,’” Cotton laughed. “And now, after the joy of seeing it come together, it’s more like, ‘OK, next year we’ll do Cats.’ ”