Grace Matwijec, Cameron Flurry taking 'Mary Poppins' to heart
Posted: Tuesday, November 11, 2014 12:30 am | Updated: 11:18 am, Wed Nov 12, 2014.
By MICHAEL ELKIN Correspondent
Is that Supergirl hovering over Newtown?
Grace Matwijec might not have a big S on her chest, but it's easy to see the reason for the mistaken identity: From her 2014 Super Bowl halftime appearance opposite singer Bruno Mars to her Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious-spouting appearance in "Mary Poppins" — now in previews with opening night Wednesday at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia — she has certainly had a super year.
But this amazing Grace is not alone: Superlatives seem to describe the unsurpassable season Cameron Flurry has had, too. And now here they both are, Newtown neighbors, not competitors, sharing a lead role — that of Jane Banks, one of Mary Poppins' somewhat wayward wards — in the magical musical that has popped up for a two-month run at the Walnut as this year's seasonal gift to kids of all ages.
Look at their bios, see their spunk and you realize: These two pre-teens are no Plain Janes.
Indeed, they are anything but, adding a special spice to the season's holiday production. And despite their veteran resumes, nothing is old hat to these Newtown naïfs, whose onstage nattering nanny is 80 in literary years — the first of P.L. Travers “Mary Poppins” books appeared in 1934 with a run and a skip and jump through 1988.
Both Grace and Cameron are on familiar ground with the flying caretaker.
“I first saw the show on Broadway five years ago,” relates Grace, 11. “One of my Mom’s friends was in it.”
And she just knew that one day she would be, too.
“It was the first Broadway show I ever saw," she says, "and since then, I wanted to play the role of Jane.”
“I saw the show two or three times on Broadway,” during its seven-year run beginning in 2006, says Cameron of the musical based on both the books and the iconic film celebrating its 50th anniversary this season. “I loved the movie as a child. When I saw it, I remember thinking, 'I wish I had a nanny.' ”
When you wish upon a star … “I’ve had a couple of nannies since,” she says.
Mary Poppins makes three.
“She’s so sweet,” Cameron says of Lindsey Bliven, the bumbershoot-baring actress in the title role. “She took us out for ice cream; she’s so beautiful and has such a lovely voice. I hope to be like that.”
It’s no surprise the youngster has her sights set on Broadway — it’s been a seven-year itch.
“I’ve been determined to be on Broadway since I was 4,” she says.
“I’ve always wanted to be an actress,” notes Grace. "I’ve been acting since I was 5.”
Mary’s Janes are both butterscotch scrumptious actresses who have shared stage time before this shared role — this is their third production together, with “The Music Man” at the Walnut and the opera “Nabucco” at the Academy of Music marking joint appearances.
And both have bios bulging with credits — many in Bucks County, where theater has been their playground.
The daughter of June and George Matwijec has graced the stage many times at the Bucks County Playhouse and the Newtown Theatre, while Cameron’s flurry of area activity has been at the Washington Crossing Open Air Theatre and the Pennsylvania School of the Performing Arts in Newtown, as well as the Bucks County Playhouse.
While theater courses through both kids’ lives, they are class acts as students, too: Misty and Ernie Flurry’s little actress is a sixth-grader at 21st Century Cyber Charter in Downingtown, Chester County, having previously attended Newtown Elementary School, while Grace is home-schooled, also in sixth grade, after spending her elementary days at St. Andrew School in Newtown.
And then there is the pomp and circumstance they covet while earning their degrees of fame onstage.
While Cameron’s crusade to make it to Broadway has the Bucks region stamped all over her musical map, Grace has added a little traveling music to her career soundtrack: This past summer, she performed in the mother of all theaterdom — New York — in the off-Broadway production of “Mother Jones and the Children’s Crusade.” She was also in the national tour of “White Christmas” opposite David Elder, who portrays Bert the “Chim Chim Cher-ee” chimney sweep sweetheart of “Mary Poppins.”
While both share Jane onstage, Grace and Cameron don’t necessarily share her traits.
“Jane can be mischievous and willful,” stresses Grace, who is, she says, definitely not that type.
“She’s determined to get her own way,” reasons Cameron, “and is bratty, but then get nicer — she’s like me in some ways.”
But 11-year-olds have decidedly better family time with their parents than the Banks children. (Michael is the other Banks child, a role shared by Nicky Torchia of Langhorne and Jacob Wilner of Malvern.)
“George Banks spends no time with his family” while her parents, says Grace with pride, make family time a priority. “We play pinochle four times a week as a family,” and Matwijec time at the home pool table is also in the cards each week.
And, despite his standoffishness, even the stage dad seems familiar to her. By George, at least Grace won’t forget his character’s name readily: “My father’s name is George, my cousin’s name is George and so is my grandfather’s and uncle’s,” she says.
Cameron, too, cheerfully salutes her folks for their unstinting support that has led her to this lead role at the Walnut.
As these pre-teens pursue their footlight-illuminated dream, it is the actual acting that spins the sugar into making the auditioning/training/rehearsal medicine go down easier.
But how would they act if acting didn’t pan out when they get older? Grace and Cameron don’t curtain off other career possibilities.
“If I weren’t acting, I’d still dance — and I’d be a gymnast,” confides Cameron.
“I’m not really 100 percent sure I want to be an actress when I get older,” says Grace. “I love math and science; I’ve considered one day becoming a doctor or teacher.”
At this stage of their lives, they are both teaching others by example that adolescents need not be scripted in sullen and spoiled stereotypes. Which is important when you are banking on your young actors to make Jane Banks a believable character. Exactly, notes their “Mary Poppins” director, Wayne Bryan: “Cameron and Grace are both delightful. Not only are they lovely and consistent onstage, they are also super kids.”
So, indeed, up there in the sky, it is no illusion after all. That is Supergirl — make it plural — hovering over Newtown. With both being led by a nanny who’s pretty super herself.
Michael Elkin is features editor of the Jewish Exponent, a playwright and author of the novel, “I, 95”.