Mary Poppins is quite possibly the most famous nanny in the world. After all, who doesn’t know that “just a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down”? Or that when your excitement can’t be contained, the word to describe it is, “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”?
The Disney musical starring Julie Andrews blew onto the scene on a magical wind of change in 1964. Since then the character and storyline of Mary Poppins have captured the hearts of viewers young and old for over 45 years and have paved the way for many renowned fictional nannies (Fran Drescher’s Fran Fine and Emma Thompson’s Nanny McPhee – “I’m looking at you.”)
The story has also developed an exciting second life on the stage. It seems that no matter how many times you’ve watched the original film musical as a kid, the stage show is a fresh, exciting, and enchanting spectacle for people of any age. From Broadway to London, England, to the Netherlands, to Australia, and all across the United States, Mary Poppins, Bert, and the whole ensemble have danced and sung their way into millions of hearts in a timeless story whose themes capture everything from the uncertainty of the economy to emotional distance between parents and children and the power of the imagination to make a difference.
Rachel Wallace knows this very well. She spent hours as a child watching and re-watching the 1964 musical classic starring Julie Andrews about the kind but firm and ever-so-slightly magical nanny, as well as The Sound of Music, another classic film brought to life by Julie Andrews. Now that Mary Poppins: The Musical has arrived on stage in Canada for the first time, playing at Mirvish’s Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto from November 12 to January 8, the young actress is ready to take on the mantle of the iconic role.
“It’s a huge privilege,” she said, speaking in the foyer of the Princess of Wales Theatre ahead of the show’s opening night on Saturday, November 12. “It offers a lot of learning opportunities, and it’s really a beautiful part. And I am learning a lot from it and [am] really enjoying getting to share the story every night.”
Cadence had a chance to speak with Wallace as well as Nicolas Drombard, the Ottawa-born, New York-based actor who plays Bert (the character first brought to life by Dick van Dyke). While Wallace is relatively new to the company, having joined at the beginning of the year as an understudy for the role of Bert before taking it on fully in the Toronto production, Drombard is no stranger to the show: “I was a part of the original Broadway cast for two and a half years. I was in the ensemble, and I understudied the role of Bert.”
Both actors were familiar with the source material for the stage musical, but for Drombard, it was a slightly different experience.
“I saw it once when I was a kid and I loved it,” he says. “The funny thing is I’m French. I started speaking English when I was seven; my first language is French. So I remember seeing the movie in French. So people quote the movie, and I’m like, “What? When did they say that? What are you talking about?”
He laughs and adds, “I haven’t watched it since because I don’t want to see it while I’m doing the show – because I don’t want to unconsciously copy or do anything. I just want to be able to bring my performance to the role.”
As for Wallace, she readily admits that Drombard’s method isn’t an option, given how much she watched the original as a child. “I’m sure that as many times as I watched it it’s like osmosis; it’s in my blood at this point!” But she has her own methods for getting a unique performance out of the role.
“I really tried to figure out why I love the character and what I love about the character, and how we’re similar and how we differ – and sort of build my role from that.”
For people who may have watched the film and are wondering why they need to come out to see it on stage as well, both actors say that the stage version is a different experience.
“We have characters from both the books and the movie and scenarios from both the books and the moments you love in the film,” Wallace says.
“So we’re sort of able to create a slightly different universe from the one you were used to in the film. And there still are a lot of very cartoon-esque characters in our production, so a lot of the energy that you get from the film, you still get in our productions because there are a lot of bright colours and big, quick, moving sets. So in that way you have an opportunity to experience something even more other-wordly when you see it live than you did on film.”
“People have this conception of the show, that it’s a kids’ show,” Drombard adds.
“Or they think it’s dated, and it’s not. It’s really an honest show that’s current. You know, it’s about a father who is disconnected from his family and his kids who are afraid of his losing his job at the bank, and it’s like, look around, what’s going on now? You know? So it’s really a current time which all ages will enjoy. Kids, adults, grandparents, and everybody will love the show, so put what you think the show is aside and come see it. You’ll love it.”
With that being said, go see the show and judge for yourself.
Mary Poppins: The Musical is playing from November 12 to January 8, 2012 at the Princess of Wales Theatre, 300 King Street West.
For tickets, show times and more details, click here.