Henry Players soar at MAT Awards

By Jason Smith
Times Correspondent

The Henry Players are relishing their newest set of accolades while preparing to hit the stage once again.

The acting group snagged nine Metropolitan Atlanta Theater Awards during an Aug. 9 ceremony at the Roswell Cultural Arts Center.

The group received a total of 24 nominations for their productions of “Spamalot” and “Next to Normal,” notes Henry Players President Adriana Beckner. She says she is “extremely excited and proud” of their achievements.

“They were all pleasant surprises, although we were very hopeful and very aware of how awesome our cast and crews were for both shows,” says Beckner. “We knew we put on great shows with fantastic talent, but you never know. There are so many great community theaters in the metro Atlanta area that just being nominated is a great surprise and honor.”

Perhaps the Players’ biggest MAT Award this year came when they won Best Overall Musical Production for “Spamalot.” The play garnered a total of seven awards including: Best Leading Actor, Matthew Pino; Major Supporting Actor, Christopher Steele; Minor Supporting Actor, Steven Taylor; Lighting Design, Kevin Rambeck; Sound Design, Ken Jones; Damon Bohan and Bob Dotson, Direction. “Spam-alot” also earned two honorable mentions for outstanding work, when Kelly Jackson and Sara Norsworthy were recognized as Board Award recipients.

Beckner says while she is excited about all of the Henry Players awards this year, she is particularly happy about two Henry Players performers who won MAT awards for their acting this year. Heather Shepherd was named Best Leading Actress, and Brandy Morris won Best Major Supporting Actress.

“I was one of the directors for ‘Next to Normal,’ so that one was super close to my heart,” says Beckner, adding that each member of the cast received nominations for their roles in the production.

Beckner says one reason the Henry Players have been a regular fixture at the MAT Awards over the years is the “top-notch technology” they’ve been able to use at the Henry County Performing Arts Center. She acknowledges that this is expected to change later this year, when the group begins performing their productions at the Hood Street Art Center in McDonough.

“We have the privilege of having a state-of-the-art lighting and sound system through the use of the Performing Arts Center, which is a huge advantage to some of the smaller theaters,” explains Beckner. “We definitely have a challenge ahead of us in the new space since we will be taking a few steps back technologically speaking, but I know we are up for that challenge.”

The Henry Players’ first performance at the Hood Street Arts Center is “Christmas Belles,” scheduled to open Dec. 10.

Before that, though, the group is preparing to dazzle audiences for the next two weeks at the PAC, at 37 Lemon St., in McDonough. The Players will present “Mary Poppins” Aug. 21-24 and Aug. 27-30.

Show times are: 7:30 p.m., Aug 21-22; 2:30 p.m., Aug. 23; 7:30 p.m., Aug. 24 and Aug. 27-29.; and 2:30 p.m., Aug. 30.

Shelia Gatlin is directing the play, with help from Assistant Director Kasey Hawkins, who will also direct the music for the production. Gatlin says audiences will notice at least one difference between the film version of the story starring Julie Andrews, and the upcoming stage production.

“There are no dancing penguins in the show,” says Gatlin with a smile. “I think the stage play shines a brighter light on the strife that’s going on in the family before Mary Poppins arrives to help them.”

Gatlin voiced high praise for the performer who will take the title role in the production, Kelly Jackson.

“She’s the perfect Mary Poppins,” says Gatlin. “She commands the audience’s attention, and they’re happy to give it to her.”

The play will mark Jackson’s third time on stage for the Players, though she has also served as a pianist and music director in past productions. Jackson says she is excited about portraying the iconic umbrella-wielding nanny.

“I feel like I’ve been practicing for ‘Mary Poppins’ since I was kid,” she says. “This is one of those once-in-a-lifetime things.”

The production combines the talents of more than 70 individuals, including roughly 40 actors. Jackson says putting the play together has been a team effort, adding that it contains elements that weren’t in the classic film version.

“Everyone stepped up for this production,” she says. “The movie will come to life, and there are some musical numbers that were written specifically for this musical.”

“Mary Poppins” will also feature veteran Henry Players performer Jeff Cooper. He will portray Bert the chimneysweep, a role popularized in the film by Dick Van Dyke.

Cooper, who has performed in more than 20 Henry Players productions, says he has always been “fascinated” with “Mary Poppins,” and especially the character of Bert. When the opportunity came to tackle the role on stage, Cooper says he jumped at the chance.

“I like the musicality of it,” says Cooper. “I’ve seen the stage production at the Fox Theatre, and I said that was a show I had to be in and a character I was really interested in playing.”

Tickets for “Mary Poppins” are $18 for adults, and $15 for seniors and children age 12 and under. For ticket locations and more information, visit www. henryplayers.com.