Fong Campers Star in Their Own Production of Mary Poppins
June 2002, Alameda, CA - The Fong kids set a new speed record in musical theatre with their own production of Mary Poppins. After just one week of rehearsal, they performed the Disney classic complete with professional costumes, lighting and the legendary Fong orchestra backing them up. They one-hour show was met with critical acclaim by the audience of 75. The performers, ranging from age 7 to 15, sang and danced most exquisitely and to the delight of everyone, especially their parents who came armed to the teeth with cameras and other recording devices.
This off-off-off broadway version of Mary Poppins was specially scripted to deliver end-to-end, high-impact, nonsense musical drama just under 48 minutes. Unlike the original, all unnecessary dialog, subplots and obscure British humor were omitted from the script. Under the direction of impresario Pam Drake of Dance/10, the children underwent intensive training for four hours each day for a week. In addition to learning to act and sing, the children took in lectures about musical theatre and live stage management. They were not only the cast, but also the crew. During the show, they had to do their own scene changes quickly, quietly and accurately.
Fong Camp in recent years has become notorious for pushing the envelop in performing arts for children. It now competes with such renowned programs as Carnegie Hall Childrens Workshop, The Harlem Youth Repertory and even the world-famous L'cie Demonde out of Paris. It recently qualified for matching funds from the NEA.
Under the direction of James Fong, the off-broadway chemistry teacher and summer thespian, the Fong Camp program aims to get kids involved in activities that they would not get anywhere else. "I doubt there are any cousins, let alone twelve of them, in the world who get to learn and have so much fun with each other," says Fong. "We create our own reality here. That's the only way to do it. Sometimes we are misunderstood by the mainstream. Some people ask me why do we do this. I tell them why not."
Making her debut as a lead actress, Gail Nakano played the part of Mary Poppins. It was a role destined to bring out her natural acting and singing abilities. Sarah Fong was Bert, the chimney sweep. Her wit and bouncy personality kept the show moving along. Erin Fong gave a gripping performance as Mr. Banks, the overeducated British banker.Dana Fong, who literally dropped her sister suffragette label, played his dutiful and zany wife Winnifred. Valerie Fong and Linnea Fong played the Banks sisters, always going against their father's wishing and singing about, well, everything. Lisa Nakano, Mckenzie Fong, Maxwell Fong, Jamie Fong, David Fong and Sam Fong filled in the other 35 parts in the show.
The story of Mary Poppins is about the transformation of Mr. Banks into the type of family man that all children want their fathers to be. The Fong brothers considered changing the ending to reflect their own childhood experiences. Instead of Mr. Banks getting his job back and then flying a kite, their ending had him celebrating with pyrotechnics and firecrackers. Musical director Ted Fong finally abandoned the idea because, "let's go light a firecracker" did not match the rhythm and melody of the closing number. "Besides, kids just aren't into that stuff anymore." says Fong.
During rehearsal week, the Fongs performed excerpts from the show at the Alameda County Fair. Musical director Pam Drake announced them as the first-ever family act that her dance school has sponsored. Donning their yellow and orange Fong Camp T-shirts, the children took to the stage and zipped through four choreographed production numbers. After the performance the kids were let loose on the fairgrounds. They enjoyed an afternoon of cotton candy, slurpies, rides and Alaskan Pig Races.