Mary Poppins flies into TUTS for a jolly holiday of music and magic
Spend a jolly holiday season with Theatre Under The Stars and its eye-popping, spectacular, and wonder-filled production of the Disney classic Mary Poppins. Based on the Disney film and book by P.L. Travers, this brand-new production of the hit musical runs December 6-24 at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts.
Though rehearsals have yet to begin, the creative team is already hard at work. CultureMap sat down with director Julie Kramer and choreographer Jessica Hartman — who had both just come from a meeting discussing the show's flying — to talk theater magic, family bonding, and the enduring fascination for this fix-it-all nanny.
CultureMap: Julie, what made you interested in directing this show?
Julie Kramer: I’m so intrigued by Mary Poppins. Her story is almost 100 years old and she's such an unusual heroine, coming in and rescuing everyone. I also love that this show is an expression of community — from the chimney sweeps to the eccentric neighbors to the woman who feeds the birds, everyone is a part of the experience.
Our cast is a mix of actors out of New York and leading lights of the Houston theater community, and together we're composing a love letter to this town and theater in general. Getting to make magic with something that's so beautiful and joyous, especially after the pandemic, feels like a huge gift.
CM: Jessica, why did you want to choreograph this show?
Jessica Hartman: My Virgo personality has never quite understood Mary Poppins but as I've grown older, my perspective has shifted. She changes the way this family is looking at each other and helps them to see each other in a different way, and that's a good challenge for me. How do I take something that I know so well and honor what has existed before while still being creative and take the audience somewhere unexpected?
CM: How do you begin to approach a show with so many “magical” elements?
JK: I already had a fascination with magic and magicians and putting them onstage, so this show encourages that interest. There's flying and things appearing from the magic carpetbag, and I’m looking for every opportunity to find magic in the staging and create unexpected moments that you will probably not have seen in other productions. TUTS has a fantastic props department and we’ll be using them for all they’re worth.
JH: Mary Poppins is magical from the beginning — she makes anything possible — so we want the audience to feel like Jane and Michael discovering all these new wonders. We've really taken a microscope to the script to find those moments.
CM: How do you make a classic that's beloved by so many your own?
JK: It's no secret that PL Travers had some issues with the movie, so we’ve been talking a lot about her and what she thought. The stage musical is more British, grounded in this world of Edwardian London, and the book is by Julian Fellowes, who did Downton Abbey.
But it's also still a Disney show, so there still needs to be that family feel and those truly magical Disney moments. There’s also more music in the musical, which means you get the songs and numbers you know and love but might also discover new favorites. Sadly, there are no dancing penguins ... but don't think I wasn't tempted!
CM: What do you think audiences will like most about this musical?
JH: As a mom during Christmas, the thing I want most for my daughter is experiences. Going to the theater with your family and seeing something so magical — nothing can beat that.
JK: This cast is phenomenal; you're going to see a very high level of performance. But also one of the first things I did after Broadway reopened was take my whole family to see Aladdin. To be able to sit with them and watch genies be real and magic carpets fly, to feel that joy and possibility together as a family was so healing. It reminded me why I do what I do.
I really hope people will take this opportunity to gather their families together and come to the show. It speaks to parents and children and our childhood selves, and it has so much heart. That’s ageless and timeless.
TUTS' production of Mary Poppins runs December 6-24, 2022, at the Hobby Center for Performing Arts. Click here to purchase tickets.