Area Actors Help New Production Of 'Mary Poppins' To Rise

Published: Wednesday, May 7, 2014 10:00 am By: Christina Hennessy Source: The Connecticut Post


As opposed to her fun, high-flying counterpart, Miss Andrews is a bit more stark in her approach to child care. There is no sugar to help the medicine go down, nor does she tote a magic carpet bag. Still, Miss Andrews has an important role to play and it is one that Jan Neuberger is relishing.

"This is not the first time I've played an unpleasant character," said Neuberger, an 18-year resident of Newtown who takes on the role of the strict nanny in the Westchester Broadway Theatre's production of  "Mary Poppins," a musical based on the stories of P.L. Travers and the 1964 Disney film.

"I'd like to think I am nothing like these characters," she said, chuckling. "But, quite frankly, I enjoy playing them thoroughly."

Miss Andrews is part of an ensemble of characters, which includes, of course, Mary Poppins, Bert and Mr. and Mrs. Banks, as well as their children, Jane and Michael. Neuberger said her character acts as a classic antagonist -- her strict ways and dictatorial approach is a contrast to Mary Poppins' more gentle approach.

After all, it is Andrews who is brought in when Poppins' techniques seem to be causing more harm than good. But one should not underestimate a nanny who can fly in the air, aided by a sturdy umbrella and who appears and disappears at just the right moments.

"There is a later scene where there is a confrontation," Neuberger said. "And not surprisingly, Mary Poppins takes Miss Andrews down a peg. It really is quite a vocal workout."

  Jan Neuberger   Jane Shearin

There is singing, dancing and some high-flying feats in this production, which drew droves of people to Broadway during its seven-year run, from 2006 to March. The latest production, which launches Thursday, May 8, marks the 40th anniversary of the Westchester Broadway Theatre. It will be staged through July. The cast also includes Lauren Blackman as Mary Poppins and Leo Ash Evans as Bert.

Expect to hear many of the classics from the 1964 movie, such as "Chim-Chim Cher-ee," "Step in Time" and "Feed the Birds." There also will be a chance for some younger stars to shine.

Eleven-year-old Jane Shearin has been cast as one of the two Jane Banks in the production. This is her first time performing at the Westchester venue, but she has participated in productions in and around Newtown, where she also lives.

"If I didn't love what I was doing, I wouldn't be doing it," said Shearin, who said this latest experience is only further solidifying her aspirations to find more opportunities to sing, dance and act on stage.

"Jane has been singing since she could talk," said her mother, Ellen Aho.

Since then, the aspiring performer has honed her talents at the Newtown-based performing arts program Sabrina's Encore Productions, and last year performed as JoJo in Newtown's 1214 Foundation's production of "Seussical."

As for her latest role, Shearin said she has been having a lot of fun in rehearsals and has enjoyed getting to meet the cast.

"It's very professional, but it's really fun, too," she said.

That mix of seriousness, with a light-hearted touch is reflected in the story itself. The Banks are a troubled lot, having already churned through quite a few nannies by the time Poppins arrives. With humor and optimism, this magical nanny delivers the difficult lessons that end up having a profound effect on the family.

"This family makes a journey, all four of them," Neuberger said. "Everyone is significantly changed by the end of this story."; Twitter: @xtinahennessy

 Westchester Broadway Theatre, One Broadway Plaza, Elmsford, N.Y. Thursday, May 8 to Sunday, July 27. $80-$52. 914-592-2222,