Practically perfect in every way: Leads in International School’s staging of Mary Poppins talk in last days before debut

The stage is nearly set for the musical to open on April 20. (Sun Current staff photo by Sean Miner)
The stage is nearly set for the musical to open on April 20. (Sun Current staff photo by Sean Miner)
Carmen Chavez (right) and Lauren Kletti (left) play two key roles in ISM’s Mary Poppins, opening April 20. (Photo by Jean Akesson)
Carmen Chavez (right) and Lauren Kletti (left) play two key roles in ISM’s Mary Poppins, opening April 20. (Photo by Jean Akesson)
A cast of 57 students, set to bring the International School of Minnesota’s first production of Mary Poppins to the stage in a matter of days, are tending to the last few details — that is, making sure it is practically perfect in every way.

The show debuts April 20 on the ISM stage. That proximity, especially for the senior behind the musical’s title character, Carmen Chavez, brings a multifaceted bundle of emotion.

“I’m a mix of a lot of thins,” said Chavez, contemplating the few weeks ahead. “I am excited, because this is a role model of mine from my childhood. I’m terrified, because I always think we could have more time, two weeks away from a production. And I’m really sad, because I am a senior and it is my last one.”

Chavez herself has taken the stage in increasingly larger roles since her first play with ISM in second grade. The other core actors in the play, among them junior Chris Truong (playing chimney sweep Burt) and sophomore Lauren Kletti (playing Winifred Banks) come from shorter stage experience — for each of them, it’s just their second play.

“I was really in just one play before I came to this school last year,” Lauren said. “It was so glamorous, all of it, and I wanted more, so I tried out this year, and I got a pretty big role, which kind of surprised me. But, I’m going to take the opportunities I’m given.”

Chris said that his drive for joining the play was, appropriately for the subject matter, family-based.

“I’m doing this as a gift for my mum,” he said. “My mom is a really huge fan of Mary Poppins — it’s like her childhood.”

Chavez, Lauren and Chris had each seen the film version of Mary Poppins as children at least once. Since landing their respective roles, each had done a fair bit of research on different interpretations that had been recorded throughout the years, much of which is available online.

“You think it’s one character, and then there are a lot of different interpretations,” said Chavez of finding the right Poppins to emulate. “When you’re reading the lines, there are multiple ways you can interpret what a character says. I think my interpretation of some of the lines [Mary] has is more sarcastic and sassy than other people could interpret it.”

Lauren also noted the helpfulness of watching other interpretations for her portrayal of Mrs. Banks — particularly in light of differences between the movie and stage versions of the story.

“I’ve watched the movie multiple times for this, and I’ve watched a lot of videos on how other actresses are doing the songs,” she said. “This is sort of a different side of Mrs. Banks you didn’t get to see in the movie — she’s struggling to be a mother, and she’s not very good at it. She’s trying to be the perfect wife for her husband, but that’s just not who she is.”

Other sources have helped as well. Chris noted that had found it helpful to lean on his mother’s thoughts on the story to refine his portrayal of Burt.

The other roles for the play, some larger and others smaller, were filled by some as old as high school students and as young as second grade.

Fifth-graders Siena Becchetti (left) and Aarya Batchu (right) play Jane and Michael Banks, respectively. (Photo by Jean Akesson)
Fifth-graders Siena Becchetti (left) and Aarya Batchu (right) play Jane and Michael Banks, respectively. (Photo by Jean Akesson)
Making a particularly large splash, however, are two fifth-graders, Siena Becchetti and Aarya Batchu, playing Jane and Michael Banks, respectively. Director Colleen Everitt spoke highly of the young talent coming to the stage on those two actors’ shoulders.

“You will not believe the talent of our two youngest leads — voices that soar, wonderful dance ability and acting that will melt your heart!” said Everitt. “They’ve put a lot of time in — these two came, I think, on the second rehearsal with everything memorized.”

The chance to take the stage for – as Siena enumerated – 23 out of 25 scenes is one that both fifth-graders were thrilled about.

“I’m really liking it so far,” said Siena. “I feel like it’s a good experience to be on the stage having a big role.”

“I’m really excited for the play,” said Aarya. “Excited and nervous at the same time.”

The high school actors glowed when asked about working with their younger counterparts.

“I think Siena and Aarya are really going to blow the audience away,” said Chavez. “I remember auditioning with them and just being like, ‘…What?’”

“They’re better than all three of us,” smiled Lauren.

With rehearsals having dominated their lives for a full two months, the actors described the light at the end of the tunnel as one that was in some ways welcomed, in other ways bittersweet.
Particularly Chavez, graduating at the end of the year, felt conflicted.

The chimney sweeps are led by Burt (center), played by Chris Truong.  (Photo by Jean Akesson)
The chimney sweeps are led by Burt (center), played by Chris Truong. (Photo by Jean Akesson)
“I’m very excited because [I’m playing] a title character — and I think that’s like a dream come true for little second-grade me,” said Chavez. “Even for those with the high school years left for more shows in the future, saying goodbye to the family they’ve built over the last few months will be difficult.

“I’m going to cry at the last show,” said Lauren.

“Oh, I’m going to cry at all of them,” Chavez said.

Mary Poppins will play at the Performing Arts Center at 7 p.m. April 20-22, as well as at 2 p.m. April 22 and 23. For tickets, call 952-918-1871.

Contact Sean Miner at [email protected]