'Mary Poppins' pops out with a bang in touring production

Mike Dunham

When Anthony Lyn watches the curtain call on the final weekend of the run of "Mary Poppins" in Atwood Concert Hall, it may be with a bitter-sweet pang. Anchorage is the last stop for the touring production that has played across America for the past four and a half years.

"It's pretty remarkable for any show to tour for that length of time in the States," he said. "Pretty unbelievable."

If anyone would know, it's Lyn. As the show's touring director he's been involved with the national traveling production from the start: the auditions, the casting, selecting understudies, managing rehearsals and, after the opening, catching the show in different towns "to make sure it's in the shape it should be in, replacing where replacements are needed."

Co-presenters Cameron Mackintosh and the Disney company are "very gung-ho and insistent that we go out and make sure the quality of the show is second to none," Lyn said.

Lyn's credentials include London productions of "Oklahoma," "Les Miserables," "Miss Saigon" and other musicals. He's currently the associate director for the 25th Anniversary Tour of "Les Mis" and was previously the world-wide associate director for "The Lion King." He spoke by phone from London, where he's again working on "Lion King," he said, "So it couldn't be more different than 'Mary Poppins.' "

The latter, which opens in Anchorage on Tuesday, is a live action rewrite of the popular 1964 Walt Disney movie with Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, which was based on the children's book series created by P.L. Travers in 1934 that told of the fantastical adventures of a British nanny, her friends and the children in her care.

One hallmark of the books is the title character's way of entering and exiting. When she doesn't fly in on an umbrella, she simply "popped" in and out -- hence the name.

The Tony Award-winning stage musical popped onto Broadway in 2006 and ran until March of this year, a longer run than "The Producers," "Annie" or "Cabaret."

But where Travers only had to write about Mary's magic and the movie could lean on special effects, the stage production requires real-time theater tricks, including flying. "Madeline (Trumble, in the title role) has to perform a significant number of magic illusions," Lyn said.

And those illusions require some fairly fancy equipment. As the show was wrapping up in its previous venue in San Francisco, workers in Anchorage were already dealing with the machinery that will be used in the Anchorage production.

"It's kind of like preparations for a military operation," said Lyn. "In terms of flying, some of that gets set up before we're even in the city. We have two of all that (equipment), jumping ahead, constantly leapfrogging, because it's too big an undertaking otherwise."

The people part of the show is also big. Lyn said there are 38 performers on stage, 17 in the orchestra and a flexible number of technical crew. "I believe we're like 84 people," he said.

Eighty-four busy people. Trumble, for instance, has to change costumes several times with different makeup tweaks needed for each change. And different shoes depending on the dance used in a scene: tap shoes, ballet slippers, boots.

The changes sometimes have to be made in seconds, with costumers and makeup people swarming around her like the pit crew around a race car.

"The offstage traffic is as involved as the onstage traffic," Lyn said.

When the show's swan song is finally sung, on June 2, the machinery, costumes, sets and so forth will go into storage.

But not for long. Though he's not involved in the afterlife of the show, Lyn said he's heard that there are negotiations with management firms around the world to buy the production.

In the meantime, he said, the company is excited to be coming to Alaska.

"It has a reputation as a great place to bring shows," he said. "We hear how enthusiastic the audiences are."

They may have an extra reason for enthusiasm this time, he suggested. "It's the end of the U.S. tour. You get that extra oomph because everybody wants to go out with a bang."


Reach Mike Dunham at mdunham@adn.com or 257-4332.