'Mary Poppins' opens in the Mat-Su
Valley Performing Arts director Larry Bottjen has long wanted to stage the musical "Mary Poppins" in the Mat-Su -- he's just been waiting for the right time and venue.
"Two years ago to this day, we reserved the (Glenn) Massay Theater. That's how far back our planning was," Bottjen said. "We actually starting thinking about it before then too. We've been planning and working and thinking and getting things done all during those last two years."
The venerable tale of a London household revitalized by a magical nanny, remade as the classic 1964 film featuring Julie Andrews, opens Friday night in Palmer. It will be the largest performance held so far at the four-year-old theater.
"We have 50 actors and 42 people in the crew," Bottjen said. "That includes nine costumers, because we have 184 costumes for the show because people play multiple roles -- plus we have an 18-member band."
Bottjen was part of Valley Performing Arts' original board of directors back in 1976. He was also part of its first-ever production that year, portraying a sanitarium strongarm in the Mary Chase play "Harvey."
"Our roots were in an old church on the Colony fairgrounds," Bottjen said. "We had a seating capacity of 65 people. Then in the late '90s, we moved to our current location in Wasilla with 172 seats; compare that here to the Massay, which seats 520, it's a huge difference."
The stage is different but also the wings -- which allows the cast and crew to do much more than they could in Wasilla.
"When we thought about doing 'Mary Poppins' we said, 'Well shoot, we can't do it in our theater,'" Bottjen said. " We knew it was going to be hugely popular, being the big family draw that it is."
A total of 150 area residents auditioned for parts in December; 50 made the final cut, including 42 first-timers.
"I've really enjoyed the process and had no idea what acting would be like," said Paul Holman, one of the rookie cast members who plays the role of Mr. Banks. "I think the thing I have learned the most in this entire process is how important it is to listen and learn from those who are experienced."
One of those experienced actors is Heather Sawyer, who plays Poppins.
"It's exciting for the cast and hopefully is seamless to the audience," Sawyer said. "It's a great ensemble show with so much talent here."
The cast started rehearsals in December, practicing five days a week. They took a two-week break for the holidays before picking right up where they left off, but all of the long work has been well worth it.
"It really is magic," Sawyer said. "Coming in here after work, putting in extra hours over at the school where we were rehearsing and now here at the theater. There is a lot of excitement."
The crew started building four interchangeable sets in October. Beth Libby then put in hundreds of hours painting them.
"It's a labor of love," Libby said. "It took a long time but it's worth it."
Friday's show will help Valley Performing Arts generate income to build a building of their own: a 250-seat community theater in Wasilla.
"We've been working on that for a number of years," Bottjen said. "There is still a demand for a more intimate community theater. That's really where our forte is."
"Mary Poppins" has 16 shows scheduled at the Glenn Massay Theater, at Mat-Su College. After its Friday opening, it will run through April 22.
For more information, show times and tickets check out VPA's website at or call the Glenn Massay Theater box office at 907-746-9300 or 907-373-0195.
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