Their production of 'Mary Poppins' will feature a cast of 150 senior students and an orchestra of up to 40, making it a challenging experience for all involved, but one that will pay off when the show opens at the end of March.
Director Jo Karney talks about the show.
What are you looking forward to about directing 'Mary Poppins'?
I adored the film and loved the stage show even more, but I I wasn’t sure whether teenagers would feel the same way. It is always a state secret what musical we are doing until the 'big announcement' at our assembly. After initially showing the school a terrible clip of a little known musical (as a prank) we showed the 'Mary Poppins' Broadway production medley. When I heard the reaction from the students, I knew we had chosen well. After the cheers died down, they all joined in with the singing. How could you not look forward to directing a show after that?
The cast is up to about 150 students… What are the challenges of directing such a large ensemble of people?
Time is our biggest challenge – as we only have around seven weeks of rehearsals and we are working with children who play sport at representative levels, have the normal dentist/doctor/orthodontist appointments, have important family commitments and who still have to maintain their academic standards. It is very important to me that being in the musical is not such an onerous commitment that attending a family member’s birthday lunch for example, becomes impossible. Space is another challenge – we have been choreographing our biggest number on the basketball court, which would have been fine but for our Sydney summer. The poor students were melting. The complicated sets and enormous amount of costumes required is very challenging, but thankfully we have a wonder woman in Elli Bortolotti who organises all of it. Storing all these costumes is a logistical nightmare and getting 150 students to try each costume on, and pinning it, is mind-boggling.
On the other side of that, what are the perks?
Where do I begin? Watching the talent of these students is just amazing. They are funny, talented, creative and a sheer joy to work with. Behind the scenes though is as important. We have an incredibly supportive headmaster, Mr Dave Pitcairn, who is the driving force behind the production and sees the enormous value of mounting such a big show every year. We have an incredible team of five, with all of us playing an equally important part. From musical direction, producing, directing, choreography, costumes, sets, singing lessons, rehearsal schedules, props, fundraising and those endless emails to parents… And that’s just the half of it!
What has the rehearsal process been like so far?
There have been days when we have almost been jumping out of our skin with excitement at what we have created (actually I did jump up and down – not almost!). We have students absent due to illness and when the heat is excessive – those days feel like an uphill battle, but fortunately those are few and far between.
How does this show compare to shows you have directed in the past?
This is my third production – 'Oliver' was the first and last year we did 'Cats'. With the first production, I had to beg, bribe and cajole students to participate. With 'Cats' it was easier, but the idea of being dressed in lycra meant there was still a little begging to be done. This year, we were overwhelmed by the response from the students. The difficult part about this show is that there were not enough leads to showcase the extraordinary talent in our school. We have outstanding students in the ensemble and in tiny roles. The standard of the singing has also reached another level since 'Oliver' which is as a result of a fantastic music programme at the school.
Tell us a bit about the orchestra. It's a 40-person band… Are they all students too?
We have 30 students from Year 5 to Year 11 in the orchestra, combined with 10 music tutors. These students do three major productions a year (a full length ballet, the High School musical and the Primary School musical) and they are amazing. When you listen to them, it is hard to believe that there are ten year olds in the orchestra!
What's your favourite part of the musical version?
I love every song – but 'Step in Time' still gives me goosebumps.
Give us a bit of a hint about what audiences can expect from the Reddam House production of 'Mary Poppins'.
Magic! Expect to be enthralled – 'Mary Poppins' will hit the roof (literally) and when the cast sings 'Supercalifragilistic', be prepared to dance in the aisles.