Muse Machine’s Mary Poppins flies

A supercalifragilisticexpialidocious love fest

By Jacqui Theobald

Photo: [l-r] Brianna Russ, Megan Braun and Jamey Paul in Muse Machine’s Mary Poppins, Jan. 14-17 at the Victoria Theatre; photo: Ben Morrison

The Muse Machine presents Mary Poppins. Seems simple and delightful, right? You know the whimsical story of the almost-magic nanny, the chimney sweep and the banker’s family, told with the singable music of the Sherman brothers.

The Muse Machine has a 33-year history of bringing all aspects of theatre to thousands in the Miami Valley. How they have touched so many, in a lasting way, is a significant part of the story.

The hundred and fifty students love being involved in this show; the producers, directors and other professionals love being super-committed to assuring a learning situation and they love the kids, with their potential and their positive attitudes. The parents totally buy in to the opportunities they see for their children as they blossom in a thoroughly accepting, non-judgmental atmosphere.

The Muse Machine even adds extra participants with two scenes using a pre-middle school ensemble, to introduce younger kids to the enjoyment and discipline of being in two production numbers. Jamey Paul, eight, won the role of Michael Banks. 400 elementary-age students auditioned, 39 selected.

Audiences will see a near-professional show with enthusiastic singing, light-footed energetic dancing and believable dialogue. The major speaking roles are undertaken with English accents. They succeed in sustaining it far better than many adult efforts.

What audiences will sense is the eagerness and joy that fuels the performances, the production assistants and the orchestra, each as proud of the whole as of their own contribution.

Doug Merk, now in his twentieth year as Produce/Director cannot stop bragging on the effect the Muse Machine has on the lives of participants.

“They find others who see the world with similar perspectives and they make many connections, feel a comfort level not always found in other activities. There’s also a deliberate diversity; 50 different schools, different backgrounds and experiences.”

Joe Deer of The Human Race and Wright State, himself loaded with accolades, is the lead director who considers his task to “keep the dramatic integrity.”  This is his fourth year.

“It’s the biggest thing I’ve ever done, maybe something like Ringling.”

Scheduling is the biggest challenge. “These kids are super-achievers, involved in several activities, sports practices, excellent students, skilled at handling it all and loving this creative atmosphere,” Deer notes, “but we have a scheduling team to make it work.”

Deer is also a Muse Machine parent and is deeply touched by the experience, “Who gets to do that?” he muses. “I didn’t realize how meaningful the full commitment is. It certainly does ‘take a village.’”

“We are a Muse Machine family,” parent Alisa Vukasinovich says, with enormous pride. “My cousin was in the very first Muse Machine show, I was a member of the club at Col. White, three of my children are in this show and one now in college was motivated to learn to dance and be involved. I’m part of the four-person costume committee that makes or rents, fits and coordinates to make sure all 136 kids meet the director’s expectations.

“The parents are so supportive,” Vukasinovich continues. “We make sure home life works and that at the theatre all are fed when rehearsals are long. During tech week we all put in 12 hour plus days but at 5 p.m. we make sure there’s a hot sit-down dinner.”

She continues, “Claude Thomas, Conductor of the 20 piece student orchestra, was at Col. White when I was a student.” The orchestra is as diverse as the rest of the company so they have to adjust to each other as well as learn the music.

There are 68 chimney sweeps singing and dancing to the ingenious choreography of director Lula Elzy, another prize-winning professional.  She leaves New Orleans to spend five months with Muse. Imagine what it takes to create that fluid motion and coordination.

The singing—beautifully balanced, some in harmony—is the work of Carol Chatfield, vocal music director’s efforts.

Shannon Sellars is rehearsal stage manager—she’s mentioned “herding cats”—and Stacie Bigl is production stage manager. John Rensel designed lighting.

Several of the students interviewed expressed the same interest in diversity and getting to know people from different schools, no matter what their Muse task. Allison Waker, senior at Beavercreek, fourth year as Production Assistant who helps with wardrobe, enjoys working backstage. She says, “I like the no-judgments atmosphere. We’re one big group.”

Jack Blair, junior at Springboro, a second year happy to have won a speaking role, is inspired. He said, “They teach you so much and I want even more.”

Carlie Shearer, Oakwood sophomore, appreciates meeting new people who share their stories. “Hearing experiences different from mine helps me as an actor to be vulnerable and gain more insight.” In her second Muse year, she’s in the ensemble with a speaking part.

Christian Johnson in his fifth year, a Stivers senior, travels from Germantown and Valley View district. He studies dance intensely every day and has the lead role of chimney sweep/narrator Bert. “My parents are incredibly supportive,” he notes.

Mary Poppins is Brianna Russ. Her mom, Kristen, bubbles with enthusiasm and trust for all that is Muse Machine. Mary, Bert and evil nanny Miss Andrew get to fly with the same company that provided Cathy Rigby’s equipment.

Let’s go fly a kite!”

Muse Machine presents Mary Poppins, Thursday-Sunday, Jan. 14-17 at the Victoria Theatre, 138 N. Main St. in Dayton. Tickets are $26-$60. For more information, including a complete list of show times, or to purchase tickets, please visit or call 937.228.3630 or 888.228.3630.

Reach DCP theatre critic Jacqui Theobald at


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Reach DCP theatre critic Jacqui Theobald at

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