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Mary Poppins drops into Dayton

Popular musical will come to the Schuster Center for one week

The Mary Poppins phenomenon — which got its start in the 1930s with a children’s book series about a magical nanny and achieved great popularity in the 1960s as a musical Disney film starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke — comes to town this week as a colorful Broadway musical. It’s the first time the show has been in Dayton.

The co-production of Disney and Cameron Mackintosh opened on Broadway on Nov. 16, 2006, and features the tuneful music and lyrics of Academy-Award winners Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman. It opens at the Benjamin and Marian Schuster Center in downtown Dayton on Tuesday, April 16, and will run through Sunday, April 21.

The show has had seven productions across three continents — worldwide the show has grossed over $812 million, welcomed more than 11 million audience members and won 44 major theater awards around the globe.

“In the stage production, you get all the big numbers and moments from the film, but you also get a story that goes much more in-depth into the lives and problems of the parents,” explains tour director Anthony Lyn. “You see the story of Mr. Banks — his unhappiness and frustration — and how Mary’s presence helps to change that and change the family at the same time and for the better.”

The forecast

Theater fans can expect to see those strong east winds blowing into the region beginning Tuesday evening. Most of the extreme gusts will be around Number Seventeen Cherry Tree Lane at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Banks and their children, Jane and Michael, our expert meteorologists predict.

The good news is that we can also anticipate a gentle breeze that will herald the arrival of a familiar character carrying a colorful carpet bag and floating to earth on a large umbrella, toes turned out. She will be recognized immediately, they say, by unusual utterances such as “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and “spit-spot.”

Audiences, Lyn said, will delight in watching Mary Poppins reach into her bag and take out a 2-foot-tall plant — complete with its pot — as well as a 4-foot hat stand, a bed and more.

“The grey-and-black park transforms into color before the audience’s eyes, and there are several affects in mid-air that I really don’t want to give away,” said Lyn, part of the Mary Poppins team since 2006 — first as the associate director of the Broadway production and then as director for the production on tour and various productions globally. His association with the show, he said, came about from his work with both producing partners — Cameron Mackintosh on “Les Miserables” and “Miss Saigon,” and for Disney as a result of his work on “The Lion King.”

Lyn believes there is something special about live theater — a direct connection between the energy of the audience and the energy of those on stage.

“There are marvelous dance routines, and there’s magic right before your eyes and you know full well that none of it is being done with trickery or editing,” he said.

Playing Mary Poppins

Playing the coveted role of Mary Poppins is Madeline Trumble, who is returning to the national tour after recently appearing in the Broadway company of Disney’s “Newsies — The Musical.” She’s also been seen in stage productions at the MUNY in St. Louis and Berkley Repertory Theatre. At 23, this is her first major part with a national company.

“Our director says every time we do this show, we should remember it’s someone’s first time in the theater and someone’s last time in the theater,” said Trumble, who was thrilled when she got the phone call informing her she’d been cast in the starring role.

The challenge, she said, is learning how to handle so much responsibility and conserve her energy. She’s been on the road for eight months.

“When you perform in New York, every day is the same and you’re living at home,” Trumble explained. “On the road we’re in a different city every Monday — with new theaters and different crews backstage. We live out of our suitcases.”

Make that their carpet bags.

“If I actually used that carpetbag, I’d be able to fit a lot more inside!” Trumble said jokingly.

The product of a show business family — both her dad and her siblings were performers — Trumble grew up in Berkeley, Calif., watching and loving movie musicals like “Mary Poppins.”

“I didn’t know if I could make it a career, but I always wanted to perform,” said Trumble, who graduated as a musical theater major from the University of Michigan.

Her favorite moments in the show?

“I love singing the song we call “supercal” and it’s a lot of fun to fly and look down from the top of the theater!”

Librarians Weigh In

Librarians are hoping the popularity of the film and theatrical production will encourage families to return to the source of the story — the series of eight children’s books by P.L. Travers focusing on the adventures of a magical nanny.

“A search in our database turns more than 35 entries on Mary Poppins in all formats — from electronic books to traditional print — even several cookbooks and an ABC book,” said Tish Wilson, assistant director of Youth Services for Dayton Metro Library, who first read the modern classics when she was taking a class in children’s literature for teacher training. “There are DVDs of the movies, sound recordings, even sheet music. And no matter what the format, the Mary Poppins’ titles are mostly checked out.”

Connie Plisek, a reference assistant at the downtown Dayton Main Library, said she thinks that’s because kids like the fact that Mary Poppins “fixes” the family.

“She talks to the kids like they are her equals, not down to them,” Plisek said. “In her quiet way, she shows the kids and the parents what’s important — family.”

Audiences are excited

Mary Poppins fans like Evangeline Andarsio of Kettering are excited about seeing one of their favorite shows come to life on stage.

“I saw the movie when I was growing up and then went back and read the books,” Andarsio said.

The OB/GYN, who especially likes the main character’s love of children and the way in which she cares for them, is expecting the production to be top-notch.

“They don’t call this the Gem City for nothing,” Andarsio said. “What we have culturally in this area is precious.”

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