November 17, 2009
The search widens after producers fail to find a local nanny,
MARY Poppins might have been created in the 1930s by the Australian writer P. L. Travers, but the American and English producers of a new stage musical opening in Melbourne in July can't find an Australian performer with the necessary qualities for the role of the magical nanny.
''We have seen some very talented people but they have not been quite right for Mary Poppins,'' producer Sir Cameron Mackintosh said yesterday.
Sir Cameron and co-producer Tom Schumacher, of Walt Disney Theatricals, announced seven of eight principal roles for the $16 million Australian production but admitted that extensive auditions in Melbourne and Sydney last month had failed to find an actor to fill Mary Poppins' shoes. They now plan to look for the elusive Mary at auditions in Perth, Brisbane and New Zealand.
''We are willing to see anyone,'' Schumacher said. ''If anyone wants to send us a letter, or a CD or post a clip on YouTube, we will look at it.''
The show's British director, Richard Eyre, who last month saw 20 potential Marys who had been ''winnowed'' from dozens more hopefuls, said the role required a rare cocktail of talents. ''She needs a kind of warmth married with a crispness and an English kind of rigour, as well as a sense of other-worldliness.''
The part also requires a ''voice that's a very good, clear soprano''.
The role for a stern yet sweet woman in her 20s was made famous by Julie Andrews in the 1964 Disney musical and whose signature style hangs over the five English and American actresses who have played the role in the stage musical that opened in London in 2004, went on to Broadway and has now opened in Los Angeles.
''If you think of Julie Andrews in the Disney movie, you get an idea of what we're looking for: a triple threat music theatre performer. Apart from singing and dancing and considerable acting skill, the role calls for that somewhat unconventional look, that elusive personality, that extra magic that connects with the audience and that is the essence of Mary Poppins,'' Schumaker said in Los Angeles before the city's opening performance, starring American Ashley Brown as Mary.
Finding a home-grown Mary Poppins is a point of honour for Sir Cameron, who insists on casting local performers in productions of his musicals.
The principal performers for the Melbourne production include several who have worked on his shows before and were chosen from a field of 650 who auditioned in Australia.
Choreographer and dancer Matt Lee, best known as a judge on So You Think You Can Dance, will play chimney sweep Bert. Mary Poppins choreographer Matthew Bourne said Lee had a quality that they had not seen in any other Berts playing the role and that they were considering extending dance sequences to take advantage of his ''brilliant talent''.
The rest of the cast, who Richard Eyre described as outstanding, are Philip Quast and Marina Prior as Mr and Mrs Banks, Debra Byrne as the Bird Woman, Judi Connelli as the vicious nanny Miss Andrew, Sally-Anne Upton as the housekeeper and Christopher Rickerby as houseboy Robertson Ay. Auditions for the children's roles will be held early next year.
The Los Angeles premiere was attended by Dick Van Dyke, who played the role of Bert in the movie version with his famous fractured Cockney accent.
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