Broadway-bound Pair Treads The Boards In 'Mary Poppins' 'lunchtime Theater' Production Is Staged By And For Young People

October 10, 1990|By Tim Weinfeld | Tim Weinfeld,Contributing theater critic

"Stage mother" is a term that has become negative and pejorative as a result of the popularity of the stage and film versions of the musical comedy "Gypsy."

In this story, Mama Rose guides the show biz careers of her daughters, Louise and Baby June, in a fashion not unlike a marine drill sergeant. The sisters have no desire to follow the orders, but Rose's tactics and tone leave them no choice. The rest of this story is history.

"Stage mother" is also the term deplored by Finksburg's Joan Eichhorn, the mother of two sisters intent on becoming members of the theatrical profession. These young women are self-motivated and neither need nor want mom backstage yelling, "Sing out girls." The rest of this story is in the future.

If desire and interest count, Rani and Ashley Eichhorn stand a chance of finding their places in a difficult, demanding and highly competitive field.

Rani, a senior at Westminster High School, is looking forward to college in Chapel Hill at the University of North Carolina and then, as she says with eyes twinkling, it's "on to New York."

Her younger sister Ashley, 12, is a seventh-grader at West Middle School, and although she has a longer wait until she realizes her ambitions, her enthusiasm and sincerity equal that of Rani's.

When Rani was 9, half her life ago, she auditioned for the September Song production of "South Pacific" and was cast in the role of Emil DeBeque's daughter. Since then, her life has been full of theatrical aspirations and experiences. And Ashley followed her lead.

Both girls have been active in Carroll County productions, and both have shown themselves to be capable, enthusiastic and talented performers.

Rani and Ashley are currently performing at the Towsontowne Dinner Theatre in the Young People's Players production of "Mary Poppins." Rani has the title role, and Ashley fills two supporting positions.

Young people, all under the age of 18 and some way under, fill all the roles, do the technical and artistic work and also serve hot dogs and chips to the little folks who make up the audience at this "lunchtime theater."

The audience ranges in age from too young to be brought to the theater to about 12. The majority are in attendance to celebrate birthdays and enjoy the cakes parents have brought to serve at intermission.

The Eichhorns travel about 40 minutes each way for rehearsals and performances, and this is not the first time they have experienced the long commute. They also have participated in the theater's recent productions of "The Pied Piper," "Cinderella," and "Sleeping Beauty."

Both young women do very fine work in the current production. Both move well, sing well and demonstrate an understanding of the stage and the role of the actor. Rani bears a remarkable resemblance to the young Julie Andrews.

Unfortunately, they have very little script left to work with as a result of drastic cutting of the text to fit the theater's needs and schedule. What is left is a kind of revue of the musical numbers presented in two half-hour acts -- not a substantial opportunity.

It's a shame to introduce young audiences to theater stripped bare of almost everything that makes live performance so memorable. Nothing remains of the story, the motivations, the conflicts and tensions, the climax and resolution, and, most importantly, the lessons to be learned from the working out of the plot.

What is not a shame is the terrific opportunity for the honing of musical performance skills by young people from Finksburg, Bel Air, Taneytown, Towson and many other towns.

As an ensemble, cast members sing and move well. Some do a good job with the British and cockney dialects. All deliver vocal projection appropriate to the space, and all but one avoid overacting.

We neighbors of the Eichhorns can take pride and pleasure from their contributions to the effectiveness of this production. We can also look to the future and hope their dreams and aspirations come true.

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