Tony Nominee Gavin Lee Was Able to Help Create Role in Mary Poppins

Tony Awards   Tony Nominee Gavin Lee Was Able to Help Create Role in Mary Poppins Gavin Lee, a 2007 Tony Award nominee for Best Leading Actor in a Musical, says he was able to help create the character of Bert for the stage musical version of Mary Poppins.

Tony nominee Gavin Lee.
Tony nominee Gavin Lee. Photo by Lyn Hughes

Lee, who was also nominated for an Olivier Award for his performance in the musical's London production, told Playbill.com at the annual Tony nominees press luncheon, "The creative team were really nice in letting me work out bits of tap routine and script. . . . I'd never had that experience before because I hadn't really created a new role before. So you won't be apt to get me off of [the New Amsterdam Theatre] stage anytime soon, because [the role] just fits me like a glove, I think, and I'm very, very proud to be involved with the show."

The actor — whose London stage credits also include Peggy Sue Got Married, Contact, Oklahoma!, Saturday Night, Crazy for You and Me and My Girl — says that although he performed the role in London for a year-and-a-half, he is still enjoying playing the part of the chimney sweep who is friends with the mysterious Mary Poppins. "I found out about three-and-a-half months before I left the show [in London] that I was coming [to Broadway]. So those three months in London, I have to say, were a bit looking at my watch going, 'Come on, come on, I want to get to Broadway now,'" Lee laughs. "But then coming here and doing the whole process of rehearsing again with the brand-new bunch of people really revived me and made me look at the role of Bert in a different way, and it still now feels fresh eight months into the run here. I'm still loving it — there's no way I'm thinking about leaving yet."

Lee has also enjoyed the enthusiasm of New York audiences. "American audiences are willing to show their appreciation more with applause, with cheers, with standing up," Lee explains. "The London audiences are just very polite and clap politely. That's me making a generalization because some nights they were fantastic in London. But, in general, here they're brilliant. And, as an actor, that's what you want. . . . We're so lucky that we get to show off every night, and then we get audiences standing for us at the end, and that's what we love — or that's what I love anyway. So I love performing here, because you get so much more back from it."

If Mary Poppins (Ashley Brown) flying through the theatre elicits the biggest applause of the musical, a close second would be Lee's upside down tap-dancing high above the stage. Lee, who admits he was "a bit scared of heights," described the process to learn his newest skill: "My first few lessons on the wires, I only got about ten feet off the ground. . . It certainly got easier and easier, and I learned how to tap upside down on a much lower platform. They didn't shove me straight up there . . . so I learned on a swing frame that was only six-feet high, so I could just flip myself upside down off a chair and learn how to tap."

As for future projects, Lee says, "[I won't] be giving this job up anytime soon unless something really great came along — another new show, or maybe try to get my finger in some TV and film pies. In London, you're pretty much in a box. If you're in musical theatre, they won't see you for anything else. Here casting directors are so much more open, so I'd like to have a go at that. Whether I would be any good or whether I would enjoy it, I don't know. But, at the moment, I'm loving what I'm doing and," he adds with a laugh, "long may I reign in this role."

Gavin Lee (center) as Bert and the Broadway cast of <i>Mary Poppins</i>.
Gavin Lee (center) as Bert and the Broadway cast of Mary Poppins. Photo by Joan Marcus