Photo by Robert Williams
The cast and crew of this year’s spring musical Mary Poppins Jr. are finalizing their remaining rehearsals for a four-show stretch over three days later this week.

Seven seniors make final performances for first-year director

By Robert Williams


The Frazee-Vergas High School’s production of Mary Poppins Jr., a musical based on the stories of P.L. Travers and the Walt Disney film. 

The musical will have four performances over three days the final week of March and features seven seniors: Sydney Rodeman, Alma Slevin, Joan LaSart, Melody Justnes, Autumn Heimenz, Annette Hermanson, and Alexis Heaton. LaSart stars in the title role.

The decision to perform Mary Poppins Jr., was a choice of those seniors from a few different options given by co-directors Jennifer Nannenga and Brian Selander.

“We take into consideration our budget, the amount of students that participated last season who are able and willing to come back, and what the senior class would prefer,” said Nannenga. “This year after looking through a list and choosing around 5-7 different options we sent a poll out to our senior class members to get their input because we felt it was important to get their input for their last musical of their high school year. After taking all of that into consideration, Mr. Selander and I sit down and decide on the year’s production. This year we decided on Mary Poppins!”

While a veteran of many musical performances, this year’s production is a first for the first-year musical director in Frazee.

“This is the first musical that I have helped direct,” said Nannenga. “It has been a learning curve for me in that I had to learn all the norms of how musicals have been run by Mr. Selander and other teachers in the past. My experiences have made the rehearsal process a quick study, and as producers we have student assistants that help with a bulk of the load, which is extremely helpful for us. There is a lot of organization, planning, and delegating that goes along with rehearsing. It takes up our lives 24/7 for the 11 weeks that we meet, but it is all worth it to see the passion in the students and to see the show come together.”

Nannenga uses a specific tool to help direct the attention of the group and actors while on stage that stems from her teaching role. It is a short song and everyone in the room joins along to refocus what can be chaotic moments during rehearsal where there are a lot of people in a small space.

“The space we use doesn’t help with the acoustics and being able to hear across the room so I use what I call the “quiet song,” she said. “This song started the first month of school in my elementary classrooms. When I need the students’ attention, I would start to sing and they automatically listen because it is a different sound, and music is unique that way. IIt just stuck, and now I use it with all my students. Even those who I don’t have in choir or elementary music learn it quickly when their peers sing along. The song is based on the Jackson Five’s song, “ABC, 123,” but the rest I made up to fit the text: ‘1, 2, 3, eyes on me, 4, 5, 6, quiet quick…’ Although my older kids insist that I say ‘shut up quick.’

From creating the stage and backdrops to learning lines, the past 10 weeks have been a whirlwind of music, lines, paint, and weather delays, according to Nannenga.

“We are so excited that we get to perform next week and show everyone what we have been working on,” she said. “Some of the challenges have been weather. We have missed around a week’s worth of rehearsals due to weather not cooperating, but that is normal Minnesota weather for you. We have some really hard working students that have been putting in the work, and we are ready for a really amazing show!”

Both Selander and Nannenga have been the benefactors of hardworking upperclassmen, along with a group of first-timers.

“One big success is that we have some really awesome seniors that have been a huge help with all of the background work that goes into a production,” she said. “We also have a large number of students who have never been a part of a musical production before and they are doing so amazing!”

The Jr. might throw off attendees not familiar with the stage. A standard Disney musical like Mary Poppins is a two-act show. There are a fixed number of roles and musical parts are written with the assumption that the actor/actress will likely be a trained vocalist with years of experience, according to a succinct explanation by the Stark Theatre Company. 

In 1996, Musical Theatre International and Disney created the concept of a “Broadway Junior” series. A “Junior” version is a One-act version of the standard show. They allow more flexibility in casting; music may be written in a different key; and they provide an opportunity for community theaters and schools to produce shows that might otherwise be impossible to offer in their area.

The first performance in Frazee-Vergas High School’s Commons area is Thursday, March 23, at 7 p.m., with two performances Saturday, a 2 p.m. matinee and 7 p.m., with the final show Sunday at 2 p.m.

Tickets are $8 for adults; $6 for students.

Performance schedule:

Thursday, March 23, 7 p.m. High School Commons

Saturday, March 25, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. High School Commons

Sunday, March 26, 2 p.m. High School Commons

Tickets: Adults $8 / Students $6

Tickets are available at the door with the doors opening 30 minutes prior to show,

Cast: (in order 

of appearance)

Bert – Sydney Rodeman

George Banks – Autumn Hiemenz

Winifred Banks – Melody Justnes

Jane Banks – Alexis Heaton

Michael Banks – Tristan Majila

Katie Nanna – Aubrie Aho

Mrs. Brill – Annette Hermanson

Robertson Ay  – Reilynn Tracy

Mary Poppins – Joan LaSart

Neleus – Emersyn Wake

Bird Woman – Layla Post

Miss Smythe – Annette Hermanson

Chairman – Madison Simons

Von Hussler- Gracie Fales

John Northbrook – Ony Majila

Mrs. Corry – SiAnna Brakefield

Miss Andrew- McKenna Wirth

Policeman – Elston Yost

Messenger – Wyatt Espe

Sweep 1 – Ace Sweeny

Sweep 2 – Annikah Blauert

Sweep 3 – Ony Majila

Sweep 4 – Emersyn Wake

Production team:

Produced and Directed by Mr. Brian Selander and Ms. Jennifer Nannenga

Music Director – Ms. Jennifer Nannenga

Costume Designer – Alma Slevin

Sound Designer Carter Labbe and Xander Somerville

Stage Manager Mr. Brian Selander

Student assistants

Choreography – Joan LaSart, Alexis Heaton, Onalea Majila

Set Design -Emma Ketter,Reilynn Tracy, Melody Justnes, Alexis Heaton, Alma Slevin

Props Master(s) Reilynn Tracy, Alma Slevin, Alexis Heaton and Joan LaSart