By Kevin Coughlin
The tiniest cast member gets some of the biggest laughs in Mary Poppins at the Mayo Performing Arts Center.
And that’s just fine with 9-year-old Aidan Alberto.
“It feels good. I like it when people laugh at my jokes,” said the Roseland fourth-grader, who plays Michael Banks in the musical.
Michael and his sister Jane (played by Sarah Rappaport, 13, of Westfield) bedevil a string of nannies until they meet their match in Mary Poppins (Sandy Taylor).
There is a bit of Michael in Aidan, according to his real-life mom
“He comes up with wisecracks at home,” said Kezia Alberto, a nephrologist.
The formula–which also includes aerial sequences, stunning costumes and sets, beloved songs, an orchestra, and standout performances by co-stars Taylor and Justin Anthony Long as chimney sweeper Bert –is a winner.
Mary Poppins, MPAC’s fourth annual spring musical, is its box office champ. The $125,000 production sold 4,500 tickets for four shows, eclipsing last year’s Les Miserables by 1,000 seats, said Ed Kirchdoerffer, general manager of the Morristown theater.
(The final performance, at 2 pm on Sunday, June 5, 2016, is sold out. Call the box office at 973-539-8008 and you might get lucky. Tickets are $20-$25.)
While his stage character dreams of flying kites, Aidan prefers wrestling, soccer and Pokemon–in between tap-, voice- and violin lessons. He hasn’t yet settled on acting or soccer as a career.
His introduction to performing was soloing in a church choir. Next came a role in his school’s production of Tut Tut, which gave him confidence to audition for Mary Poppins.
MPAC’s rehearsal schedule has proven more rigorous than his elementary school play.
“One day of Mary Poppins is like a week of Tut Tut,” Aidan said on Saturday, catching a bite with family and friends at SmartWorld Coffee between shows.
One might think there would be lots of boring down time during rehearsals. Not so.
“I have fun the whole time,” he said. “I’m in almost every single scene.”
Video: Aidan Alberto, 9, sings with cast in ‘Mary Poppins’
The pre-show jitters belong to mom and dad, said Aidan’s father, Aldrin Alberto, a software engineer. “I get nervous,” he admitted.
Aidan’s only tough reviews so far are from his big brother, Aaron, 13, who likes to tease his thespian sibling. Their kid brother Andrew, 4, still is honing his critiquing skills.
It’s unlikely that a bad review could sway Aidan at this point, however.
“I love performing in front of lots of people,” he said. His favorite Poppins scene involves a nasty nanny. “I like it when Miss Andrew [Alexandra Russo] comes and gives us this disgusting medicine!”
Cast and staff of Poppins have praised Aidan and Sarah for not acting too cutesy. Taylor, an Equity actor who also teaches at the Mayo Center’s performing arts school, likes their “wide-eyed, honest reactions.”
Yet acting naturally actually “takes a lot of practice,” Aidan said.
“My director [Cathy Roy] was a big help. She helped us until we got it right. You really have to work hard.”
Aidan knows it’s “not really possible to be perfect.” Roy told him not to worry, just break a leg. But the director also coached her young stars on the secret to stage success.
“Show how you feel,” Aidan related. “That’s the most important part.”
Slideshow: Aidan Alberto, 9, in ‘Mary Poppins’