Chris Chumbley was a soloist during the Black Fly song performed at the massed choir concert on May 9. Sue Tiffin Staff

Mary Poppins kicks off theatre dreams

By Darren Lum

When two young performers learned they had earned their first starring stage roles in the upcoming Highlands Summer Festival staging of Mary Poppins their reactions were a contrast in personalities and ages.

Jumping around the house with a formal gown was excitement personified for 11-year-old Tate Itani Smith while her stage counterpart Duncan Evans-Fockler 8 took the news like a “cool cat.”

Both are extremely happy and excited about getting to be Jane and Michael Banks in the much beloved musical which recently was introduced to a whole new generation with the silver screen sequel starring Emily Blunt.

The two local performers have seen the Julie Andrews rendition and the Blunt sequel appreciating the dance numbers and are excited about their opportunity to take centre stage in the fantastical story of a nanny with extraordinary powers who takes the brother and sister on a series of adventures and passes on the joy of life to their preoccupied parents.

Duncan’s mother Leanne Fockler Evans said her son’s reaction earning the part was subdued but knows he was excited even if he was a “very cool cat.”

She knows deep down he has always wanted to be on the stage. At close to two years old Duncan was bit by the stage bug.

He was invited to the stage during a “b-boy dance” (or breakdancing) show at the family performance series Razzamataz Kids’ Shows at the Northern Lights Performing Arts Pavilion in Haliburton.

“He went up and was the littlest one on stage and at the very end everyone was having turns dancing. He went out and he went crazy on stage and he brought the house down” she said. “He just loves being on the stage. Ever since he was little. He sings all the time everywhere he goes. This is just kind of an extension so we’re super excited for him to grow some of these talents.”

The Grade 2 French immersion student at Stuart Baker Elementary School who has performed in the annual Nutcracker performance said earning the role made him “really happy.”

Having the story revolve around his character makes him feel excited.

Duncan was encouraged to audition by his piano teacher Lauren McInnes who he has started seeing this year.

Tate’s mother Sam Itani was proud of her daughter and could easily tell the night she learned of getting the part.

“She was so excited she did karate kicks around the house the whole night. It was a strong visual for us so that’s how we knew she was super excited” she said.

She adds this is something her daughter wants. This role is part of fulfilling a passion for the stage which has already included piano and voice lessons.

Tate and Duncan share the same joy about being chosen.

Tate felt satisfied by how her audition effort paid off.

“I really really wanted to get the part and worked really hard to get the part as well” she said.

Tate’s aunt is a singer and helped her with her audition telling her to exude confidence on the stage and be herself which will also be a focus for the Grade 6 French immersion student at J. Douglas Hodgson Elementary School to use in her performance in the show.

She said she has begun to learn the song “the Perfect Nanny” from Mary Poppins.

Tate who has been a successful track and cross-country athlete is familiar with attention but also the hard work and training required for success. That background is going to be part of her preparation for Mary Poppins. The theatre provides a level of joy and satisfaction that makes the stress far more tolerable for the young performers.

As far as challenges of singing acting and dancing during the show Tate and Duncan said memorizing the lines will be most difficult.

Scot Denton artistic director for the Highlands Summer Festival emailed the Echo to say Tate and Duncan were chosen for being the “closest to what the roles call for” among the hopefuls who were an “interesting and talented” group.

He adds “They are a couple of very bright kids. And they’ll need to be – they are on the stage for most of the show – maybe 80 per cent of the time.”

Both “took the stage” during the audition.

Tate sang a song from the musical Mathilda. She not only had props but “blocked the whole thing” and entertained Denton. Duncan sang “Gary Indiana” from Music Man “solidly in a clear voice.”

Tate and Duncan projected clear qualities that will serve them well as the leads in Mary Poppins.

“When an audience watches Mary Poppins they see the story through the eyes of Jane and Michael. I think Tate and Duncan will facilitate that – at the auditions they both seemed really observant and inquisitive” Denton wrote.

Performances (all at Northern Lights Performing Arts Pavilion) for Mary Poppins are June 30 at 7:30 p.m. July 2 at 2 p.m. July 2 to 4 at 7:30 p.m. July 5 and 7 at 2 p.m. and July 8 and 9 at 7:30 p.m.

See for more information.