In March, the Reston Community Center’s CenterStage at Hunters Woods presented Mary Poppins, the Broadway Musical, directed by Wade Corder.
With an excellent cast, superb direction, excellent choreography, and neat production, the play delighted audiences of all ages with its “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” rhythm.
We had the opportunity to talk with Wade to learn more about him and his motivation behind directing the play.
ROSSI: How long have you been directing?
Corder: I’ve been directing for about 10 to 12 years. This is my sixth show, and my first here in Reston. I directed [Monty Python’s] Spamalot for The Little Theatre of Alexandria, and that was named the Best Show of the Year by the Watch Awards. I’ve directed musicals at Elden Street in Herndon before it became Next Stop Theater. I also did The Drowsy Chaperone for the Mclean [Community Players], as well as Ruthless for Dominion Stage.
ROSSI: Tell me about your work for Mary Poppins.
Corder: I was asked to do Mary Poppins right after the production of Spamalot, so it was really exciting. My first thought was, ‘This will be for my niece.’ Her name was Michelle Cox, and she loved all things Disney. She had a disease called Batten’s Disease, and it took her after about 10 or 12 years. She lost her ability to move and talk, so she spent a lot of time watching musicals, until she also lost her sight. So when I was offered this show, I thought that this would be for her. It’s been 20 years; she would have been about 38 now. She died when she was 18.
ROSSI: So you’re dedicating this to her?
Corder: Yes, and we had a sensory performance for people and children with developmental difficulties and problems, and that was just magical. I cried through the whole thing because she would have been in the audience. My part of the play is directed in honor of her.
ROSSI: Tell me about the process producing and directing Mary Poppins.
Corder: I was asked in August 2014 to direct this play, and we really started working on it about a year later, putting everything together. The choreographer, Andrea Heininge, has worked with many of the people here. Auditions were early for Community Theater; we held them in October of last year so that we could take time off for the holidays and still be ahead of the game in case of snow.
ROSSI: How many people were in the cast?
Corder: We had 24 in the cast, 14 in the orchestra, and 25 backstage making things work, moving big sets and making fast set changes. There’s ‘magic’ to do, and it takes a lot of people. It’s a wow of a show, and I really can’t believe how well it’s pulled together because it’s been hard.
ROSSI: Was the musical based off of the traditional Broadway script?
Corder: Yes. It’s the same script, but not the same characterization, especially with Mary Poppins because I didn’t like the characterization that they had on Broadway.
ROSSI: How is it different?
Corder: My Mary Poppins is kinder and more expressive of appreciation. You can tell she loves the children, whereas on Broadway and in PL Travers’ books, Mary is much harsher and really mean. I wanted it to be more like Julie Andrews in the Walt Disney film. It was a fun journey with Shaina Murphy, who plays Mary Poppins, and she ‘got it’ right away. It’s totally new, and it’s beautiful. She’s wonderful, and the kids, Aidan Chomicki and Avery Daniel, who play Michael and Jane Banks, are nine and 10 years old and on stage for three hours. It’s a long show, and they’re amazing. The parents are George Banks and Winifred Banks, played by Ward Ferguson and Amanda Jones. Duane Monahan plays Burt, the chimney sweep, the narrator, the guide of the show, and the friend of the audience.
ROSSI: The play is full of songs, music, and dance.
Corder: Yes, Andrea Heininge is the choreographer. The tap dance number is about 12 minutes long, and our cast had special classes and put together videos of how to do it in slow motion. The music directors are very talented—Dana Van Slyke is the choral director at Herndon High School, and her husband, Jim, co-music director, is a music voice therapist and cabaret artist as a part of a nationally recognized show about Neil Sedaka.
ROSSI: Is the set similar to the original Broadway?
Corder: It looks like Broadway, but it doesn’t move like Broadway. We don’t have electric sliders in the floor to move furniture on and off, and we can’t fly a nursery in from above the stage, so all of the mechanics of Broadway have been replaced with hard labor. There is a whole committee of people responsible for the set design. Sarah Burkett, who is backstage, is the one in charge of running the show and figures out how to get all the pieces to work in time so the show isn’t six hours long.
ROSSI: Tell me about your experience working in Reston.
Corder: The theatre itself, and the culture of the support staff, are just wonderful to be a part of; they’re kind. We rent the space, but a lot of them come to help us with the lights and sound. They’re just a joy. I recommend it for anybody. It’s a great space to watch theater and a great place to work.
ROSSI: What did you like the most about this work?
Corder: It was a real joy and a real honor to give back to the community that has given me so much. To be allowed to also give to the community of special needs children in a judgment-free zone was beyond my dreams of what I could give back. I very much appreciate the opportunity to serve and to be a part of this production and meet all these people. There were about 22 people in the cast that I hadn’t known before, so that’s 22 more people whom I love in my life. And the gratitude I have for the people stepping forward and working so very hard to make the sets and costumes and dances work … it’s an incredible experience and I’m in awe to be a part of it.
To check more plays at the Reston Community Center CenterStage, please visit www.restoncommunitycenter.com.