They spent three years on the West End, clocked up 2,619 performances on Broadway and travelled Australia and New Zealand for well over two years. Now, the residents of Cherry Tree Lane hit the Parramatta Riverside stage to celebrate another jolly holiday with Mary!
In their third offering for 2015, Packemin Productions bring the much-loved Disney and Cameron Mackintosh work, Mary Poppins, back to Sydney audiences.
It’s been two and a half years since Poppins flew out of the Capitol Theatre, and if there’s one company in the Harbour city capable of marking her return in style, it’s certainly Neil Gooding’s Packemin crew. When Shaun Rennie (who will play the role of Bert) first had the opportunity to experience a Packemin production, he was hugely impressed by the high calibre work the company brings to the stage. “It’s really mindblowing, and a great credit to the cast and crew Neil managers to gather, who give up their time and want to be a part of making good theatre,” Rennie tells Theatre People.
Rennie’s no stranger to Australian theatre audiences. A NIDA graduate, he’s done extensive work on the professional circuit around the country, with credits including Pepper in the original Australian cast of Mamma Mia!, The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber and, most notably, Munkustrap in CATS. In fact, Rennie only recently stepped off a plane from Korea, where he was continuing his long association with Lloyd Webber’s classic work. Another of his recent credits was taking on the role of Rock in a one-month workshop of new musical, But I’m a cheerleader, directed by Tony Award winner, Jerry Mitchell (Kinky Boots, Legally Blonde). Rennie described the workshop experience to Theatre People as “amazing” and offered similar praise to Mitchell.
So how is it that Rennie finds himself back in Sydney and taking on the much-coveted lead role of Bert? “I was very kindly approached by Neil Gooding quite a while ago now. I’ve worked with Neil before, a few times. I was very honoured to have been asked,” he says.
The latest Packemin production actually represents the second occasion on which Rennie has taken to the stage as the world’s favourite chimney sweep. In March, he co-starred with fellow professional performer, Alinta Chidzey, in a production staged by Canberra’s Free-Rain Theatre Company. “It’s a dream role, actually,” he says of his cockney character. “He’s the most loveable role I’ve ever played. It’s very nice to play someone who is just so joyous. He’s the happy, fun, all-knowing, wise, everyman. What’s not to love?”
At the Riverside, Penny McNamee will join Rennie onstage in the title role, best known to Australian audiences for her impressive portrayal of Nessarose in the Australian premiere season of Wicked. In the role of George Banks is Sam Moran, the original Yellow Wiggle, and Helpmann Award-winner, Kate Maree Hoolihan, will play the role originally brought to Australian audiences by Marina Prior – Winifred Banks.
While Poppins is Rennie’s first time as a Packemin cast member, it’s not his first experience working with the company. Rennie was assistant director of Packemin’s stunning production of The Phantom of the Opera, which played a sold-out season at the Riverside in February. He says Packemin’s pro-am environment provides a “joyous space”. He adds, “The amount of time and commitment, outside of work hours, from all involved is a huge undertaking, and to be able to make such a commitment there is always great passion and excitement for theatre.”
As part of the Packemin fold, Rennie has the opportunity to inspire young amateurs looking to pursue a career in the industry, but at the same time, he says he feels a sense of responsibility as a result. “I’ve loved being reminded of that time where my love for theatre was born. It’s also such a great training ground for people who may want to pursue theatre professionally. It’s the best training a young person can get. Do as many shows as possible as a kid!”
Rennie speaks highly of Gooding, and the platform he’s providing for young performers with Packemin and what it means for theatre in Australia. “I think what Neil’s doing out at Parramatta is really beneficial for the industry at large, in terms of generating a new, younger audience of theatre-goers.”
Rennie has no doubt those attending any Poppins performance over the coming weeks are in for a treat! “It’s an incredible show. Mary Poppins is a great, great show for adults and children alike,” he says.
“I’m pretty sure tickets are almost all but sold out, so you’ve got to get in quick!”
Packemin Productions’ Mary Poppins plays the Riverside Theatre, Parramatta from Friday 24 July – Saturday August 8.
Tickets start from $25 and can be purchased here.