Mary Poppins at WBT

Published: Tuesday, May 6, 2014 By: Peter D. Kramer Source: The Journal News


This weekend, Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains open a two-weekend run of Disney’s “Mary Poppins,” a clever update to the P.L. Travers-based 1964 film starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke.  Westchester Broadway Theatre opens its production of the same musical, in a dinner theater setting with professional actors, include a Poppins who has played the practically perfect nanny before. Here’s my chat with Lauren Blackman, WBT’s Poppins. I’ll have more with Stepinac’s Poppins, Christine Turturro, in a separate post.

The 1964 musical — with music and lyrics by Richard and Robert Sherman — was reimagined for Broadway in 2006 with music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe and a book by Julian Fellowes, of “Downton Abbey” fame. It’s this new version that comes to the Elmsford dinner theater, under the direction and choreography of Richard Stafford. Flying by umbrella isn’t new to Lauren Blackman. The star of Westchester Broadway Theatre’s new production, “Mary Poppins,” (running May 8 to July 27) played the practically perfect nanny in Maine last summer, in the musical’s East Coast regional premiere. Blackman, a California native, is no stranger to WBT audiences, having played the wicked Vivienne in “Legally Blonde” and the frustrated Claudia in “Nine.”

Blackman says there are things to forget as she begins rehearsal with a whole new cast—such as the way her last show was staged and choreographed—but things she’ll need to remember.

“I hope I continue to grow in the character, keep the good things, but continue to find new things with my new family of ‘Poppins,’” she says. Blackman says with a laugh that one of her biggest lessons from her last brush with Poppins was very specific: “Lace gloves are really bad for umbrella opening. The lace gets stuck in the wires and a glove flew off one night with the umbrella.”

“I wish I knew a better way of handling the magic,” she giggles. “Props and I will work together, but I think that’s every Mary Poppins’ wish: that you’re a little bit smoother with the magic.’”

There’s plenty of magic in the show, from a seemingly bottomless carpetbag to her umbrella flight. The challenge at WBT is that the stage is nearly surrounded by audience.

“There’s really no way to trick you when you’ve got audience on all sides,” the actress says. “But I know they have lots of special things in store for Westchester.”

“Mary is funny and stern and loving. She’s not a villain, but she certainly has a strict side to her, which (author) P.L. Travers wanted to come out more in the movie. I always try not to be funny and try not to be stern and try not to be strict, but the book is great. Mary is just a person who loves and she has a goal. If I just keep my mind on the goal, I think it comes across the way it’s supposed to.”

Standing in first position with the umbrella up certainly makes a difference, the actress says. She’s on a first-few-syllables relationship with the show’s iconic number, “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” which she calls “Supercal.” In this version, Mary, Bert and the Banks children spell it out, accompanied by intricate choreography that gets faster and faster.

“I have no idea what Richard has in mind with Supercal,” she says. “I can tell you it’s always terrifying. The hardest part is learning the spelling and then learning to spell it backwards. I have one up on everybody else, but it took me a long time.”