Learning a British accent is only one of the challenges faced by Elyse Gillespie, who plays Jane Banks in the musical “Mary Poppins” at the Looking Glass Playhouse in Lebanon.
“I’m in almost every scene,” said Elyse, 8, of Fairview Heights. “I have a bunch of quick changes backstage. I have to change costumes, and I also have to change shoes.”
Good thing Grandma Peg Zuger is a costumer for the community theater group. She helps with buttons, snaps, ties and buckles.
Elyse’s character is the daughter of George Banks, a wealthy London banker, and his wife, Winifred. They hire Mary Poppins as a nanny for their mischievous children, Jane and Michael.
“In the beginning, (Jane is) short-tempered and untidy,” said Elyse, a second-grader at William Holiday Elementary School. “She likes to play with her brother, even though he pulls her hair.”
The children don’t take an immediate liking to Mary Poppins, who is stern, vain and often cross. But the nanny has a magical touch and a way of making life adventurous.
Michael will be played by Madison Sanker, 12, a seventh-grade girl at Mascoutah Middle School. She cut her shoulder-length, dishwater-blond hair to pass for a boy.
“We had a little trouble with my wife (Rebecca) on that one,” said father Brad Sanker, 41, of Mascoutah. “But Madison said, ‘It’s only hair. It’ll grow back.’”
“Mary Poppins” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and May 14-16 and 2 p.m. Sunday and May 17 at the Looking Glass Playhouse, 301 W. St. Louis St. in Lebanon. Tickets cost $10 to $12.
The show features “Just a Spoonful of Sugar,” “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and other songs made popular in 1964, when the movie with Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke came out. The play opened in 2004 in London.
“I saw the show (the following year), before it even came to the United States, and it was charming,” said Gigi Dowling Urban, director of the Looking Glass production. “It’s something I thought Playhouse audiences would enjoy. It’s nostalgic. It’s bright. It’s funny. It’s sweet. And it has great music.”
The play also has a serious side, as Mary Poppins helps bring the Banks family together and show Mr. Banks, in particular, that life is about more than making money.
“Mrs. Banks finds her voice in the sense that she stands up for herself and she stands up for the children,” Gigi said.
Locally, “Mary Poppins” has been a family affair for both the Gillespies and Sankers. Cassie Gillespie, Elyse’s mother, sings in the chorus.
“I’m the ticket chairperson (for Looking Glass), so I’m usually stuck behind the ticket counter,” said Cassie, 33. “We haven’t had a chance to be in a show together for a long time, so I asked to be in one scene.”
Brad Sanker serves as assistant director and plays Admiral Boom, a former Navy officer who lives in the neighborhood.
Rebecca Sanker plays Katie Nanna, the Bankses’ former nanny. Sons Andrew, 13, and Mitchell, 16, sing in the chorus, and Mitchell poses as a statue in a London park.
“All of my family is in the play, except my son, Clayton, and he’s off at college,” Brad said. “And he’s regretting it. He was upset that he wasn’t going to be here.”
The Looking Glass Playhouse cast includes Megan Noll as Mary Poppins, Ray Gill as Bert, Mike Huelsmann as Mr. Banks, Leigh Reidelberger as Mrs. Banks, Lynne Huelsmann as Mrs. Brill, Chris Weckler as Robertson Ay, Tonya Kemble as the Bird Woman, Anne Gargac Hunter as Miss Andrew and Robbin Netemeyer as Mrs. Corry.
At a glance
What: “Mary Poppins”
Where: Looking Glass Playhouse, 301 W. St. Louis St. in Lebanon
When: 7:30 p.m. today through Saturday and May 14-16, 2 p.m. Sunday and May 17
Admission: $10 to $12 with discounts for LGP members, students, senior citizens and military personnel with ID
Reservations: Encouraged at www.lookingglassplayhouse.com (may select seats) or 618-537-4962