With a spoonful of sugar, Mary Poppins still works her magic

Flying, walking up walls and tap dancing on the ceiling are all in a day’s work for the stars of Adelaide-bound Mary Poppins, who promise the new musical has all the magic ingredients of the original story – plus a few extra surprises.

Jun 02, 2023, updated Jun 02, 2023
A step back in time: Jack Chambers is jack-of-all-trades Bert in the touring production of 'Mary Poppins'. Photo: Daniel Boud / supplied

A step back in time: Jack Chambers is jack-of-all-trades Bert in the touring production of 'Mary Poppins'. Photo: Daniel Boud / supplied

Mary Poppins will be floating in on her umbrella and arriving at Adelaide Festival Centre in July for the touring production, which is based on the book series by Australian-British author PL Travers and the 1964 film of the same name.

Starring Stefanie Jones as the practically perfect nanny Mary Poppins and Jack Chambers as her loveable friend Bert, the musical ­– presented by Disney and Cameron Mackintosh ­–­ also features Australian veteran of the stage Patti Newton, who landed the role of “Bird Woman” less than a year after the death of husband Bert Newton.

Newton’s return to the stage followed a request for her to audition in front of co-creator Mackintosh.

“That was a wonderful experience because he’s such an iconic man and he’s got so much charisma,” she says of the prolific producer, whose credits include the long-running musicals Les Misérables, The Phantom of the Opera, and Cats.

She loves the character of Bird Woman, who makes money by selling breadcrumbs to passersby to feed the birds. While the character is currently being played by Marina Prior in the musical’s Melbourne season and was performed by Nancye Hayes in Sydney, Newton had the role for the Brisbane shows and will take it over again for the Adelaide and Perth seasons.

“I feel, looking at this old lady dressed in rags, I bet she was somebody that has just fallen on hard times, and she still wanted to do something good. That’s what the whole of Mary Poppins is about,” she says.

“Mary is trying to teach the children not to see things just as you see them but to look deeper. I think that’s why I love the role so much.”

Patti Newton relishes the role of Bird Woman. Photo: Daniel Boud / supplied

Newton, who was in Adelaide recently with her musical co-stars to promote Mary Poppins, says it was her own relationship with husband Bert that led her to consider returning to the stage after spending decades as a “telly girl”.

“I sort of felt that when he passed, his life in the theatre was such a special thing for him. So, when I was asked to do this, I think it felt like I was doing it because he sent it to me.

“It was funny in rehearsals because they’d say, ‘Now you stand there and then Bert [the character] will come over and greet you and grab you by the arm and take you off’, and every time they said it I used to feel, ‘I think I’ve got Bert on stage with me’.

“How can I not be in a show where Bert is the leading man?”

Stefanie Jones works her magic as Mary Poppins. Photo: Daniel Boud / supplied

In Mary Poppins, Mary uses magic to transport herself and her young charges into one of Bert’s street paintings. Bert is just as magical as he performs daring feats such as walking up walls and tap dancing on the ceiling.

“It’s great fun,” says Chambers, who has previously performed in musicals including The Sound of Music and Singin’ in the Rain, as well as the Baz Luhrmann film Elvis.

“I was quite nervous to start with. Not because I didn’t trust people, just because I was afraid that, as I’ve started to get older, I’d suddenly suffer from vertigo. What if I’d go up there and then find out that, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going to get dizzy and feel sick’.

“I was really relieved when I went up for the first time and that wasn’t the case. To this day, I’m still yet to look down.”

Stefanie Jones’ Mary brings her own magic as she flies across the stage carrying her iconic umbrella and bag.

InDaily in your inbox. The best local news every workday at lunch time.
By signing up, you agree to our User Agreement andPrivacy Policy & Cookie Statement. This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

“Getting to fly is a real bucket-list moment,” says Jones.

“Doing all the magic in the show is actually the most fun; to hear the reactions of the audience really trying to figure out how this stuff is happening in front of their eyes.”

Jones and Chambers both come from Brisbane, and recall first meeting as children at the beginning of their musical theatre careers as siblings in The Sound of Music.

“Having that existing friendship has been really important. I also think we have a really similar work ethic,” says Jones. “Bouncing off each other is easy and great. There’s a lot of trust there.”

The pair agree that their existing relationship helps create the chemistry between their Mary Poppins characters.

“I play that we are very familiar and we have some history. I like that there’s a little bit of mystery as to what that history is,” says Chambers.

“I know how Bert feels for Mary. It’s fun to play that sort of chemistry.”

Mackintosh and his team have introduced new dialogue and songs to the story to create a fresh experience for long-time lovers of Mary Poppins.

“You’ve got all the famous lines there that people love, like ‘spit spot’ and ‘best foot forward’, but also some new dialogue that you don’t hear in the movie, but it’s just so Mary,” Jones explains.

“People are coming and getting exactly what they hoped for, plus more, because there’s all these extra surprises. They’ve taken the best bits from the books and the best bits from the movie.”

Jones and Chambers feel that their involvement in a beloved family story and its ongoing incarnations is an honour.

“It feels really special to be part of something so loved,” says Chambers.

Mary Poppins is currently playing in Melbourne and will have a season at the Adelaide Festival Centre’s Festival theatre from July 1.

Topics: musicals
Local News Matters
Copyright © 2024 InDaily.
All rights reserved.