Poppins Not Too Big to Tour; Schumacher Says Anything Can Happen

Tony Awards   Poppins Not Too Big to Tour; Schumacher Says Anything Can Happen
 
One of the stars of the new Disney-Cameron Mackintosh production of Mary Poppins is the ambitious, bigger-than-life scenic design by 2007 Tony Award nominee Bob Crowley, who also designed the musical's costumes.

Ashley Brown in the Tony-nominated Best Musical Mary Poppins
Ashley Brown in the Tony-nominated Best Musical Mary Poppins Photo by Joan Marcus

The production at Broadway's New Amsterdam defies gravity in so many ways: the famed nanny (played by Ashley Brown) flies over the heads of theatregoers; chimney sweep Bert (2007 Tony nominee Gavin Lee) tap dances upside-down on the proscenium arch; an entire floor of the Banks household — the nursery — lowers from roof-level to eye-level; and the behemoth, oversize dollhouse home itself magically fades in and out.

Surely, the massive 2007 Best Musical Tony nominee Mary Poppins is too big to have a touring life outside of Broadway.

Disney Theatrical Productions' Thomas Schumacher has heard this song before. He subscribes to the show's philosophy that "Anything Can Happen." A planned fall 2008 tour is already in the works.

"When we mounted Lion King, one of the first things people said to me was, 'Well, it works on Broadway, but you could never do this production anywhere else.'"

Schumacher shrugged and added, "There are [eight] companies of Lion King playing tonight — you can see it in Japan, Korea, Johannesburg. There are two companies around [the U.S.], touring. We've toured to China, we've been in Australia . . . we've been able to take the show everywhere." For the developing national tour of Mary Poppins, Crowley "has created a magnificent set idea that creates many of the same stage pictures that you're seeing on stage here, but a whole different design approach to it," Schumacher explained. "There's a tour concept that works perfectly. Yes, it's a gigantic production, the reason you want to see it on Broadway, of course, is — you want to see the original big production of it. But, like our other shows, whether it's been Beauty and the Beast, whether it's been Aida or Tarzan — we just opened Tarzan in Amsterdam — there's always a way to reinvent these shows."

Schumacher admitted that the Banks house — a multilevel Victorian beehive — is a challenge, but not an obstacle.

"There's a 27-ton house onstage," he said. "The big idea for Bob Crowley's set was, 'How do you go from the world of the Banks family at No. 17 Cherry Tree Lane and then strike the whole house and be in a park — be in a vast, open fantasy space — and then be back in the house?' That's the trick of his set. I think for most people, it never occurs to them: You've just seen a house materialize and then disappear. We have figured out a way to do it on the road."

Bob Crowley is a three-time 2007 Tony Award nominee: For Mary Poppins (in the categories of Best Costume Design of a Musical and Best Scenic Design of a Musical) and for Lincoln Center Theater's The Coast of Utopia (for Best Scenic Design of a Play, a nomination he shares with co-designer Scott Pask).

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