GROVE CITY – As soon as the cancellation of the Grove City High School spring musical was announced, the students were ready to take on another project.
“The kids really were amazingly gracious,” said Patrick McElroy, director.
The theater department had already put a lot of time and energy into “Mary Poppins” when Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced in mid-March that schools would be closed for two weeks because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
That was followed by an announcement on April 1 that in-person instruction and school events would be canceled for the rest of the school year.
The musical had been set for the beginning of April, and the students were disappointed but not surprised about the change of plans.
“They kind of saw it coming,” said Hannah Jaskiewicz, music director.
She and McElroy have been keeping in touch with the students in an effort to keep them active with performing arts.
The students have had great ideas for virtual projects, like a cheer that everyone did together on what would have been opening night.
“That helps their spirits,” Jaskiewicz said.
The students also recorded their parts from a few “Mary Poppins” songs. The performances were edited together to create one video, and the final result was posted to YouTube under McElroy’s channel, and on the school district’s Facebook page.
The spring musical program always includes biographies of the seniors, which have instead been posted in video format to YouTube and the high school theater Instagram account – to make sure they’re still recognized, McElroy said.
There are also videos featuring the students talking about the musical and what theater means to them.
Senior Isobel Day, who was preparing for the role of Winifred Banks, said that everyone was “immensely kind” in response to the video they recorded for “Anything Can Happen” from “Mary Poppins.”
“It was amazing to see members of the community react so positively to this, even those who you wouldn’t expect to be supportive,” she said.
She understands why the musical had to be canceled, and she is grateful for support and guidance from McElroy and Jaskiewicz.
Isobel was amazed to see a special video put together by Andrew Wilson, a GCHS alumnus who graduated from the school with McElroy in 2004.
Wilson has performed on Broadway, and he arranged for some fellow Broadway stars to record video messages for the GCHS cast of “Mary Poppins.”
The video can be found on Wilson’s YouTube channel, and it’s called “A Broadway Salute to the Cast & Crew of GCHS Mary Poppins!”
Telly Leung, who played the role of “Aladdin” in Disney’s Broadway production, said he understands that this is a disappointing time, and that the Broadway community is also sad to be shut down.
“We feel your pain and we want you to know that you’re not alone,” he said.
The video ends with Wilson welcoming the “Mary Poppins” cast to the Disney family – he’s performed in Disney’s production of “Newsies” – and praising them for being part of something so amazing.
He gave a shout-out to the seniors and told the underclassmen that they are tasked with carrying on the legacy of the theater department.
“There’s tons to cherish and keep in your hearts forever,” Wilson said.
“It made me feel seen – like the work we did on the show was noticed,” Isobel said of the video.
Being part of the musical isn’t a high school requirement, but McElroy said he can tell the students hold it in such high esteem because they’re still dedicated to it.
“It’s more important now than ever,” he said of the arts.