The Valdosta Daily Times
Megan Wheeler is a familiar face on the Sawyer Theatre stage, but if she does her job right, audiences will forget the little girl who grew up here as the daughter of area theatre directors and the young actress who has played numerous roles.
As the title character in Peach State Summer Theatre’s “Mary Poppins,” Megan Wheeler does her job absolutely right.
Waiting for the show to start, regular PSST! audiences will likely recall Wheeler’s ethereal Lily from “Secret Garden” — if they’re long-time audiences from back in the pre-PSST! Jekyll Island days, they’ll remember her as a young girl playing Mary in an earlier production of “Secret Garden.” They’ll recall her performance as the challenged Clara in “The Light in the Piazza,” her Betty Haynes in “White Christmas,” the title role in
“Thoroughly Modern Millie,” and roles in “Aladdin,” “Mulan,” “Singing in the Rain,” etc., as well as roles in VSU Theatre & Dance productions such as “Showboat,” the preacher’s wife in “Footloose,” “Five Women Wearing the Same Dress,” “Sugar Babies,” etc.
Yet, within minutes after arriving as the heaven-sent answer to a tattered childhood prayer in “Mary Poppins,” audiences will forget those other roles. Megan Wheeler becomes the flying, magical nanny. From her facial expressions to her movements to that pitch-perfect singing voice to taking flight under the iconic Poppins umbrella, Wheeler breathes an irresistible charm and undeniable credibility into the character.
Granted, she’s known she had the role for several weeks. Her father, Dr. Randy Wheeler, a retired VSU Theatre professor, directs the show; and her mother, Jacque Wheeler, is PSST!’s creative director, but like the rest of the cast, she had less than three weeks from the first rehearsal to opening night this past Friday.
During this time, she learned to fly.
To present “Mary Poppins,” PSST! acquired a professional flying rig and trainer. Wheeler spent two intense afternoons with the flying-rig professional. At first, he told her to forget about being Mary Poppins, rise on the rig and have fun, swing back and forth, get comfortable with the equipment.
Because of the flying rig, Wheeler and Olin Davidson, who plays Bert, missed two days of dance lessons, which they had to make up throughout rehearsals, but the rig scenes are worth it for the audience. And Wheeler says flying has “been awesome.”
Acting, rehearsing, preparing for shows, and performing have become her career. Wheeler graduated VSU in 2009. Her last PSST! roles were two years ago during the 2012 season.
She lives in New York, where she is part of the rotating cast for the “Manhattan Dolls” swing-style vocal group. She has performed in a show in Texas and has worked professionally in Florida. Last Christmas, she performed in Rhode Island in a production of “Miracle on 34th Street.”
Yet, it is New York that has beckoned her. There’s a strong community of VSU Theatre & Dance graduates there. This already-established VSU-NYC community made her comfortable, and now that’s she’s lived there for three-and-a-half years, she can help newcomers become accustomed to New York.
Wheeler laughs that she had her New York experience early. Two weeks after her arrival there, someone pickpocketed her wallet. “It felt like my entry fee,” she says.
She also had her family’s support in both the choice of a theatrical career and living in New York. Wheeler says her father warned her that the theatre is a tough business ... do not enter it lightly. Randy and Jacque Wheeler always encouraged her, even when she wasn’t certain if theatre would be her life but was a part of her life anyway.
As a child, Megan spent numerous hours in Sawyer Theatre as her parents directed shows into the evening. She recalls rolling down the side aisles of the theatre to entertain herself as she spent everyday there after school. When VSU presented musical theatre on Jekyll Island, Megan spent her summers there with her parents and often performed in shows needing a child actor.
Yet, she did not always consider theatre as a possible career. At one point, as she looked to graduate in 2005 from Valdosta High School, she considered studying marine biology, but it did not have the same appeal as the stage.
Though she loves New York, she enjoys returning to her South Georgia home and that old familiar stage in Sawyer Theatre.
“As soon as I arrive, it’s like being home again.”
Peach State Summer Theatre’s “Mary Poppins” continues 7:30 p.m., June 14; 3 p.m., June 15; then in rotating repertory through July 26, Sawyer Theatre, Valdosta State University Fine Arts Building, corner of Oak and Brookwood. Reservations, more information: Call (229) 259-7770; or visit www.valdosta.edu/psst