FRANKLIN — If you want to imagine what might happen if a former farm boy like Brian Clement Rainville, 41, was let loose in the world of American theater, you need go no further.
Folks here might also tell you about three historic bowties, dating back to 1966 that play a small, yet sentimental role in how Rainville approaches his craft.
An American Studies teacher at Randolph Union High School (RUHS), who began set design there in 1996 and directing plays in 2006, Rainville never had a problem like he had at this past Sunday’s matinee of “Mary Poppins,” his fourth musical. He also has directed “Cinderella,” “Once Upon a Mattress,” and “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown.”
It was seven minutes before the 2 p.m. opening and Franklinites, who had bused down to Randolph to see the show, had taken their seats in the school’s Murray Auditorium. Some 100 moms and dads and children waited in the hallway, hearts large with hope that a small miracle just might gain them access.
Word of mouth had spread. This, after all, was the Vermont premier of the newly revised Mary Poppins, one that highlights the central female character in ways different than the Disney movie of the same name.
Rainville, when promoting the show, had explained that the entire cast felt a sense of obligation and wanted the premier of this musical to be the best it could be. Part of that mission meant bringing in Flying by Foy, which created the stunning flying effects. The director said it was a chance for his young cast to work with specialized equipment and a professional flight director.
“If you want to see passionate young people at work—go to the theater,” he told the Herald of Randolph.
On stage on Sunday, a period 1906 set of his design at his back, Rainville in soft tones of someone talking to his puppy said, “I have two seats about four rows back. I’m looking at five seats in the center.” He paused, said, “This is the kind of problem I like.”
As those final seats filled, Rainville added, “This is humbling. This is so humbling.” His heart was full, he said later, because although he had directed plays from “Skin of Our Teeth” to the “Christmas Carol” since 2006, a matinee had never sold out.
But there was still another problem. An agent of Vermont’s Fire Marshall’s Office was on hand to make sure the number of people in the auditorium did not exceed the fire code. As for squeezing in others, “It would be unkind to ask people to stand for a two hours and forty minute show,” Rainville said from the stage.
There was good reason for the full house. In the four days of its performance, March 19 through 23, an estimated 1,000 Randolph and area residents and their children had packed the auditorium. Among them were the families the 45 actors.
As lights dimmed, a lone whistler came strolling down the aisle. It was Bert, who is the show’s narrator and Mary Poppin’s foil, who with a snap of the fingers invites the audience into the world of the play. From then on, the hall filled with cheers, applause, laughter and shouts of “bravo!” Some spectators sang along with the actors.
“Any die hard fan of the movie knew the tune Bert was whistling, ‘Chim Chim.’ made famous by Dick Van Dyke in the 1964 Disney film,” Rainville said in an e-mail.
The excitement built on Sunday when Mary Poppins flew across the stage several times, as she arrived to babysit the two obstreperous children. Later she would do so again and save the day.
Among the Franklites in the audience was Rainville’s mother, Betty Myott Rainville, whose husband, Clement, stayed home to mind the farm, on Morses Line.
“Due to his allergies, Brian was not able to work in the barn or on the farm,” Betty said in a phone interview after the bus ride on Sunday. “And anyway, his vision for life was to be a teacher.”
She added, “He was a member of Modern Woodmen of America Junior Service when he was 10 years old and even then he found he liked to teach younger kids.
“When Brian went to grade school, I made sure he saw Harold Mitchell’s plays and student Skit Nights at MVU, Missisquoi Valley Junior Senior High School.” She was referring to Brian’s early interest in theater, where, he said he saw parade of grand musicals take the stage in the school’s Greek theater.
Rainville graduated from MVU in 1991, St. Michael’s College in 1995, and earned a Masters Degree in American Studies at William and Mary at Williamsburg, Va.
On board the bus, too, were Monique Rainville, Imogene Rainville, Darlene Greenwood Cooper, her daughter, Teja Cooper of Colchester and granddaughter, Madison, 12, the daughter of David and Trula Greenwood Southwick of Sheldon. Shawn and Kathy Clark Rouleau were present with the youngest aboard, their children, Ross, 7 and Maggie, 9, the grandchildren of Susan and Doug Clark of Franklin. Also there was Diane Gates.
Of the 63 Randolph students who tried out for the play, 45 were chosen. In Rainville’s eyes, Mary Poppins is about “a gifted teacher who transforms her students,” he wrote in the program.
The performance was, to say the least, well received.
“I’ve never seen anything this good in New York city,” said an elderly lady who said she born there.
And as she talked, the show now over, Rainville reappeared,
turned to his mother and said, “It’s your fault I’m doing this.”
And what about those mystery bowties? They belonged to Rainville’s grandfather, Wilfrid Rainville, of Franklin, who wore them during his term in the Vermont Legislature in 1966.
“Three of his bowties were in use in Mary Poppins,” noted the director. “I have a storeroom filled with costumes, props, and accessories that have personal family histories. Working on the stage allows me to evoke eras during which my ancestors lived.”
“I may not be in Franklin County everyday, but Franklin County remains part of who I am,” he wrote in an e-mail.