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'Mary Poppins' brings magic to Artpark (or is it the other way around?)

by jmaloni
Sat, Jul 26th 2014 04:05 am
`Mary Poppins: The Broadway Musical` (photo courtesy of Artpark & Company)
"Mary Poppins: The Broadway Musical" (photo courtesy of Artpark & Company)

Preview by Joshua Maloni

Disney wasn't shy about promoting its special 50th anniversary Blu-ray edition of "Mary Poppins" last Christmas.

In a "sneak preview" video, credits read, "For 50 years, one film has defined ... Disney magic," as dramatic music and imagery unfolded in the background.

Famed movie critic Leonard Maltin was quoted as saying, "Walt Disney's crowning achievement," before a smiling - flying - Julie Andrews was shown.

Song clips and movie highlights then reminded us this Academy Award-winning story is not just well-known, but iconic.

To successfully present "Mary Poppins" in 2014 - to bravely take on Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, the song and dance numbers - let alone the flying - would take real magic.

Artpark & Company conjured up some hocus-pocus in an attempt to bring the Disney favorite to Lewiston. In a fairytale series of events, key ingredients came together, allowing the venue to present "Mary Poppins."

First off, the show became available.

"We've been trying, in recent years, to concentrate on doing a Broadway musical that is very family-oriented," said Artpark & Company President George Osborne. "We started with 'Beauty and the Beast,' which was quite successful. We did well with 'Joseph' and 'Sound of Music' and 'Cinderella.'

"So then they released the rights to 'Mary Poppins' about a year ago. We've had this show on the books scheduled for almost a year now."

Once the musical was booked, Artpark & Company needed two more key ingredients: Mary Poppins, and something to enable her to fly around the stage.

The former was easy. The latter took a little more effort.

"We're lucky that we've discovered this young, wonderful talent - Emilie Renier - who's coming back to do the third straight year as a lead," Osborne said.

Renier starred as Cinderella in 2012, and then as Maria in last summer's "The Sound of Music." She was nothing less than brilliant in both roles.

"There's only, like, two companies in the U.S. and Canada that actually handle all the rigs required to fly people," Osborne said. "We've engaged this company, and they'll be coming in and putting up the rigging and giving lessons to the 'Mary Poppins' characters so they'll be safe."

Once all the pieces were in place, it was time to get to work on bringing one of the most famous movies of all time to the stage.

The "Mary Poppins" cast and crew have been hard at work inside the Mainstage Theater for several weeks preparing for the musical, which will be presented July 31 through Aug. 8.

"I think it's going to be interesting for audiences, because Mary Poppins, in the movie, is very sweet. And she's not quite so sweet in the show," Renier said. "It's funny, because I keep getting notes from our director that's, like, 'You have to be harsher. You have to be sterner.' And I'm, like, 'Ohhhh, noooo!'

"Mary Poppins is very different in the musical."

The musical's story centers on George and Winnie Banks and their children, Jane and Michael, who have sent myriad nannies packing. When Mary Poppins arrives, she is determined to straighten the kids out - and to rekindle their relationship with their parents.

John Barsoian, who plays Bert, the title character's close friend, said, "I think with Mary Poppins, going back to P.L. Travers, who wrote the book, Mary Poppins doesn't sugarcoat things. She tells you exactly how life is. I think that's kind of hard to swallow, but the way Mary Poppins delivers it, with 'a spoonful of sugar,' she can be very blunt."

"But ... the way Mary Poppins is, and the way the show's constructed, is that you don't love her any less," he added. "You want to learn from her; and you want to listen to her; and I think that's what's so important for the Banks family, is that they're drawn to this person."

With Renier and Barsoian in place, longtime Artpark director Randall Kramer at the helm, and Artpark & Company working behind the scenes, it's not hard to imagine audiences will be drawn to "Mary Poppins," too.

Look for our review next weekend.

For a list of "Mary Poppins" show times and dates, or to purchase tickets, visit www.artpark.net.

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