Musical Theatre In Preview
P.L Travers once wrote that Mary Poppins could not "forever arrive and depart", but lately that's exactly what she's been doing.
Over the last decade, the stage production of â€˜Mary Poppinsâ€™ has carried this magical British nanny to major cities across the globe, igniting the notepads of critics in West End and Broadway with flurried witticisms of praise and adulation. Since Travers' first Poppins book was published in 1934 the story has undergone countless adaptations, yet it's the 1964 film that most of us relate to. Whether or not musicals are your idea of a practically perfect night, almost all of us are familiar with the image of Julie Andrews floating through the clouds, umbrella in hand. That is, unless you're a fan of the Soviet Union's 1983 adaptation, where a Babushka arrives in a T-34 tank and says, "In Soviet Russia, nursery tidies up you!"
Regardless of Mary's place in your life, we're all well aware that the East Wind will soon bring her to Brisbane; the musical's publicity team has already plastered posters across every surface area they can find. Filling her corset for the show's run of Australian dates is acting veteran Verity Hunt-Ballard, a leading lady determined to bring her own distinct flavour to one of the 20th Century's most identifiable roles.
â€œWhen I got the role, I asked if I could go to New York to see the show because Iâ€™d never seen it before. They were adamant that I didnâ€™t, because they didnâ€™t want a mimicry. They wanted us to bring our own sense of truth to the part. Musicals evolve as they go from country to country and itâ€™s pretty much the same creative team that put the show on ten years ago, so theyâ€™ve been evolving too. Theyâ€™ve cut parts and re-edited bits and cut music and rethought things. I think thatâ€™s what Iâ€™ve loved about working with this team so much is that theyâ€™re always wanting to better the show. Theyâ€™re never wanting to put in a carbon copy or template that theyâ€™ve stuck with.â€
Few stories have existed for so many decades and in so many forms, yet Verity contends that it's no secret as to why Mary keeps popping up in our neighbourhood. â€œItâ€™s a show with timeless values and morals and I think weâ€™ve lost a sense of a lot of those things in 2011. People come and see the show and are reminded of a more innocent age â€¦ and the fact that we all come from a slightly dysfunctional family and often need a little bit of outside help. Thereâ€™s a great line in the show that says â€˜anything can happen if we only get out of our own wayâ€™ and I think thatâ€™s the essence of what weâ€™re trying to say.â€
The hidden value of entertainment has always been the escapism it offers, and stories like â€˜Mary Poppinsâ€™ remind us that happiness can be found in the most unlikely of places. Mind you, that isn't a reference to finding this production landing itself in Australia; with P.L. Travers' local roots and the similarities shared between British humour and our own, the musical's Australian leg has provided the production with a home away from home.
â€œI think Australians tend to understand English wit a little bit more than Americans, and the English people have said that the Australian cast bring a certain earthiness, a kind of groundedness to the performance and a different type of humour. Every show is different.â€
If Verity Hunt-Ballard's reputation within theatre circles wasn't already firmly established, it certainly is now. Around 1000 people auditioned for the lead role on the Australian leg of â€˜Mary Poppinsâ€™ before her services were specifically requested. The rest may be history, but with the opportunity of a lifetime has come the most difficult task in her career.
â€I wanted to pay huge respect to Julie Andrews. She made the role famous and it was about wanting to find a combination of paying respect to her but also finding my own way of portraying the role. I think the real challenge is playing a role that isnâ€™t quite human, but has human characteristics and emotions. Iâ€™m performing magic tricks and everything needs to be full of smooth lines ... thereâ€™s no room for error."â€˜
Mary Poppinsâ€™ will be performed at the Lyric Theatre QPAC from Dec 30 - March 17.