Performances slated 3 times a week through Aug. 4

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FARMINGTON — The set for the Sandstone Productions presentation of "Mary Poppins" that opens its seven-week run tonight at the Lions Wilderness Park Amphitheater is an elaborate one, director Shawn Kidd says, one that has required weeks of hard work by crew and cast members to assemble after he designed it.

It also has consumed a good share of the production's budget, he noted. And that left Kidd with limited options when it came to finding a dialect coach to work with the actors on their British accents that are required for the play, which is set in London.

So he turned to the next best thing.

"YouTube," he said, grinning broadly and referring to the online videos his cast members have been studying to refine their speech patterns.

With opening night fast approaching, Kidd and some of his actors and crew members were putting the finishing touches on the set Wednesday afternoon before their final rehearsal that night. This is the 30th anniversary presentation for Sandstone Productions, and Kidd said theater officials were looking for a classic family musical to produce for that milestone.

"Mary Poppins" fit that description to a T, he said.

But the show is not an easy one to produce. Kidd said its scenes takes place across a wide variety of settings, both inside and outside the Banks family home, and sets must be built for each of them. That has left some cast members pulling double duty as carpenters and painters.

That was the case Wednesday when Melissa Cheffers, who performs the lead role, and Paul A. Stewart III, who portrays Bert, were dabbing paint on a staircase. Stewart is appearing in his sixth Sandstone Productions show, while Cheffers is making her debut with the company. Kidd was overseeing their efforts, as well as those of crew members Jack Pope and Alan Wolfard.

"This is probably the biggest set I've ever done on a show," said the Bloomfield High School teacher who is directing his fourth Sandstone Productions show. "There are certain expectations that come with 'Mary Poppins,' with all its song and dance."

The story is very well known, but Kidd said the stage production differs in important ways from the 1964 film that made Julie Andrews a star.

"When the show was adapted for Broadway, they took some things from the movie, and they took some things from the (book)," he said, explaining that the stage production is essentially a hybrid of those two stories.

As is usually the case with Sandstone Productions presentations, the cast for "Mary Poppins" is large, with 22 actors seeing time on stage. Kidd cast two sets of child actors for the roles of Jane and Michael in the play, partly as insurance.

"It's a pretty demanding role for children. … Part of that was so they don’t get exhausted (over the play's seven-week run) and so they have built-in understudies," he said.

Performances of "Mary Poppins" are scheduled for 8 p.m. each Thursday, Friday and Saturday through Aug. 4 at the Lions Wilderness Park Amphitheater, 5800 College Blvd. in Farmington. Tickets are $12 for adults, $8 for students and seniors, and $7 for children. Call 505-599-1144, 505-599-1148 or 877-599-3331 for tickets.

Mike Easterling is the night editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.

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