Filichia Features: A 14 Year-Old's Vision of Mary Poppins

Filichia Features: A 14 Year-Old's Vision of Mary Poppins

First, he got the cast he wanted for Mary Poppins. Then he acquired the rights from Music Theatre International. Next, he needed a theater in his area that could accommodate a large musical and the one at Raritan Valley Community College in Branchburg, NJ was his choice.

For sets, he contacted Envision Productions of Sewell, New Jersey which provided and built what he needed for the one and only performance on January 28, 2018. He also wanted handsome drops. Music Theatre Wichita rented him London's skyline, the Cathedral, the exterior of the Banks' house and the Bank. He searched for costumes and ultimately rented from Maine State Music Theater.

"He" is 14-year-old Max Rodriguez.

"At four, my parents took me to Broadway and Mary Poppins," he recalled. "My mom said I sat there completely mesmerized."

Max returned six more times.

"It was fluffy and happy and so beautiful with the costumes and sets," he said - before adding "I also saw a depth and dimension reading between the lines. It showed that families that are broken need a little bit of a push. Mary does the pushing."

Max has pushed his parents into theater. Declared his mother Eileen, "I was a banker and my husband's a financial guy. Max has taught us a lot in the last 10 years."

During that time, Max appeared in Mary Poppins in community theaters in Basking Ridge and Morristown. Said Eileen, "He was the proudest messenger you ever saw."

Eileen became a messenger herself, delivering production goods. "Seven hundred pounds of costumes in 17 giant boxes that filled up a whole FedEx truck. I'm Max's secretary," she added good-naturedly, "for he needed an adult to sign contracts and checks."

Added his father Carlos, "Most people he dealt with thought he was an adult."

"When Max had the idea for this, it sounded overambitious to me," admitted Carlos. "I suggested a little function room at the firehouse but he refused because it has a flat floor and people wouldn't see over each other's heads. I told him there weren't any theaters around, but when I got home the next day he said 'We have a theater.' All I could think of was 'What about the set?' and he said 'You can help me.'"

It's hard enough to stand up in the playground, deem yourself the leader and choose up sides for baseball. Now imagine trying to direct student actors who are older than you. Such as 17-year-old Chance Friedman who'd seen Mary Poppins on Broadway before Rodriguez was even born. How could he take orders from someone three years his junior - especially considering that he'd already played Bert in middle school?

Rodriguez quickly addressed that issue. "I don't like to think of it as taking orders," he said. "Directing can't be tunnel vision. You need to think about those around you -- the audience as well as the cast. If you create something where everyone's miserable, it's not going to work."

Karenna Breslow was the first person that Max approached for Mary, always envisioning her in the role. "She was great as Shrek in Shrek JR. at our middle school," he insisted (having played The Gingerbread Man).

Breslow returns the compliment: "I've known Max since 8th grade and how professional he is. I had faith from the beginning."

Max's production manager Stacy Negron-Sheckells admits to being 60 -- "and have worked with young people in theater since I was 18."

But certainly not with a teen director. "No," she conceded. "When we first sat to talk, Max could communicate what he wanted and how he wanted it. He knows how to say the right things to his cast, too."

Max seemed utterly sincere when he said "The reason I did this was to give kids opportunities. People asked 'Are you doing it for college or recognition?' No, I just wanted to give kids an opportunity to come together and create something beautiful."

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