Mind Your Q.

Hometown girl to grace Orpheum stage in Mary Poppins

Mary Poppins is new to Omaha, but both the musical and the city are long familiar to one of its principal players, Q. Smith. Born here as Quiana and with the show for three years, she returns as the title character’s rival nanny. You might even say our hometown girl plays the villain. Mary sings, “A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down,” but Q.’s nanny, Miss Andrew, forces “Brimstone and treacle” on the two children. That doesn’t mean she won’t have a rooting section during its three-week run at the Orpheum Theater, especially on an evening when 100 or so family and friends from Salem Baptist Church join her parents, retired World-Herald photographer Rudy Smith and retired drama minister Llana Smith, for the performance. It won’t be new to mom and dad, either. They’ve seen her in Chicago and Los Angeles, among other stops, and most recently when the company appeared in Des Moines. “But a lot of people who grew up with me have never seen me perform,” she says. As a professional, that is. Many saw her in plays created by her mother and grandmother for Salem, the big Baptist church on a hill in North Omaha. She toured Nebraska and Kansas with her mother’s group, including brother Shannon and a cousin. And others were exposed to her talents at North High, where choral teacher Patrick Ribar “introduced me to musical theater.” She played one of the brothers in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat and the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz. After two years at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, she auditioned for musical theater programs but wasn’t accepted. So she brought home a book listing the schools offering that major and looked at all the possibilities, including Ithaca College in New York, a small private school not far from Broadway. The next day she picked up the book again and it fell open to the page with that college. “I said, ‘OK, Lord, is that where you want me to go?’” She would become one of its first African-American graduates. And that wasn’t the last time she turned to her faith in God. When this writer wrote a profile of her father, Rudy Smith told how he and her mother shared the faith that brought them together. And then he added, “And my daughter’s faith is stronger than mine.” Q. Smith agrees. “My faith is strong, but I got it from him. My parents kind of instilled it in me when I was young. Without it in this business, it would be very difficult to survive.” For example, after rehearsal Wednesday night, they’ll start the Omaha run by performing Mary Poppins seven times in four days. “It’s quite challenging,” she says, and this time the challenge will include explaining to both family and friends that she doesn’t have a lot of spare time. “I drink lots and lots of water. It takes about two hours for the body to hydrate. I stretch a lot and try to work out two or three times a week, but the whole show is a workout.” Her preparation also features prayer and she tries to read scripture each morning. On Monday, the day off, “I don’t talk or use my voice.” One difference while in Omaha: she won’t spend her per diem on either of the two housing options offered the cast. “I’ll stay at home” with her parents in Northwest Omaha. Her roommate Tiffany from Virginia — “She’s like a second daughter to them” — will also join them. “I did Les Miz with her,” Q. adds. She loved Les Miserables so much as a swing member of the ensemble that “I cried every day on my way to work” on Broadway. For joy and gratitude. We were talking about these experiences while she was in Pittsburgh, where it had snowed the night before. “New York City is my favorite place,” she says, “but it’s a hard place to live.” In her first year with Mary Poppins, she often didn’t know which of eight roles she’d cover until just before the show or even in the middle. For a while, she understudied “the oldest woman in the world.” Even now, while we’ll see her in a key role with her own song, “Brimstone and Treacle,” you might spot her earlier as Queen Victoria in the “Jolly Holiday” scene. But ask about her favorite number and she picks “Step in Time” with Mary, Bert the chimney sweep, the kids and all hoofing on the London rooftops. But she finds the whole show “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” The Disney and Cameron Mackintosh production is presented as part of the Omaha Performing Arts Broadway Across America series. Mary Poppins at Orpheum Theater, 409 S. 16th St., runs Jan. 27-Feb. 13, Tues.-Thurs. 7:30 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 6:30 p.m., plus matinees Sat. 2 p.m. and Sun. 1 p.m. Tickets are $33-$72 available via 345.0606 and omahaperformingarts.org

posted at 08:03 pm
on Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

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