Tom Barnes, San Clemente

The magic of San Clemente High School’s presentation of “Mary Poppins” is in the performers and the performances, not the ramshackle building that serves as a lunch room, charitably called a “cafeteria.”

In spite of the inadequacy of the venue, the play was brilliantly staged. As playgoers know, Mary Poppins the play is a different vehicle than the movie. The focus is on the dysfunctional English family, the Banks, and how Mary Poppins helps them transform themselves from being “upside down” to being a strong family unit—including valuing and supporting each other.

Director Laurie Mason and her creative team depict the joy and wonder of this walk in the park through the use of color (a vivid red) choreography, and horses as props of the production.

Cassidy McCleary’s Mary Poppins character is just right, demonstrating wit, wisdom and a bit of snarkiness. She has a set of pipes that resonate in the acoustically challenged facility and can hit all the notes with power and subtlety. In fact, all the voices are spot on, with nary a false note. But it is the work of the ensemble that steals the show. All these groups stand out: the jolly holiday dancers, clerks and customers, the toys, the kite-flyers and especially the chimney sweeps. The joie de vivre they exhibit is infectious and their performance never faltered through the numerous set and scene changes amongst what seems like a cast of thousands.

Songs like “A Spoon Full of Sugar,” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” made great use of the large cast with humor and affection, but it is the original choreography in “Step in Time” that is the highlight of the show. Performing that difficult number with a tap-dancing routine is shear genius. How the creative staff was able to teach tap dancing to the large number of chimney sweep dancers is a marvel. Kudos to all who made it happen. Moreover, the softer numbers like “Feed the Birds” and “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” are handled just as well as the up-tempo ones.

With 61 cast members profiled with pictures, and 65 other contributors named in the group photos, those who were in charge give proper credit to everyone involved in the show in the high quality, colorful, program. This is a classy way to acknowledge the importance of everyone, not just the stars. These contributors are presented alphabetically as a further gesture to egalitarianism.

After 53 years, it is time for the some-67,000 in San Clemente to support a proper venue with comfortable, tiered seating and adequate architectural acoustics for the theatre arts education program at San Clemente High School. The City Council, the Capistrano Unified School District and all those in powerful and influential positions in the city need to make this a priority. If we are indeed one town, one team, we need to support the theatre arts team. As Mary Poppins says, “Anything can happen if you let it.”

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