When it comes to Mary Poppins, it is hard to believe that any person in the theatre world would not have grown up with the story. Although Robbie Smith and Rosa McCarty (playing Bert and Mary in CLOC Musical Theatre’s production) have been exposed to the story to varying degrees, both have a sound and rather beautiful understanding of the themes and ideas that make Mary Poppins such a universally loved and respected tale. Keep reading below for a discussion on all things practically perfect!
What was your introduction to Mary Poppins?
Robbie: My introduction to Mary Poppins was I suspect similar to a lot of people, through numerous times watching it as a child. I think it was just one of those films my mother would put on to help distract me for a few hours whilst she would be able to do some housework!
Rosa: As unusual as it sounds, I don’t recall ever watching or listening to Mary Poppins in my childhood! I vaguely recollect learning ‘Supercalifragilisticexpalidocious’ at school from the other children, but I don’t think I knew what it was from! Although I was aware of bits and pieces, it wasn’t until I started musical theatre in my 20s that I became familiar with Mary Poppins…
Was there anything in particular that drew you to the musical, movie or novel?
Robbie: The original film was just a classic. I don’t know if there’s a more iconic soundtrack in a Disney film (I’m sure that we would be argued with) but those songs from the Sherman brothers have just solidified a place in cinematic history.
Rosa: The importance and relevance of Mary Poppins didn’t strike me until I watched the film ‘Saving Mr. Banks’. I was so incredibly moved by the film, by P.L. Travers’ life and her intent with Mary Poppins (it’s autobiographical). ‘Saving Mr. Banks’ snowballed to the musical recordings and the novels, where I discovered the brilliance and importance of Mary Poppins as a commentary on society’s views of childhood and family structure, education, and class. What I admire the most about Mary Poppins as a character are her progressive views of education, emphasis of empathy and compassion, freedom of thought, and creativity.
What has it felt like to step into the shoes of such well known and loved characters?
Robbie: It’s always challenging to play a role that is so iconic, so well known, and there doesn’t come many as iconic as Van Dyke’s Bert. There is a certain amount of liberty that comes with playing Bert on stage, as there are significant differences from the film that allow that freedom… Since being cast, one of the most frequently raised topics of conversation has been that accent. It’s funny, as a kid watching the film I never gave it a second thought, but returning to the film in preparation for the show, I certainly heard it in a different light!
Is there a particular scene or element of the show that you have enjoyed so far or are looking forward to?
Robbie: The Step In Time number is incomparable. It is such a stage stopping number, complete with aerial acrobatics – it has been a blast putting it together.
Rosa: To be honest, it is all wonderful. Mary Poppins is an example of one of the most beautifully layered and well written pieces of musical theatre. Every aspect is a joy, especially because I get to share the show with a tremendously talented cast.
What do you think is the universal appeal of Mary Poppins?
Rosa: The themes are universal – childhood and growing up, relationships between children and parents, status and position in society, responsibility, resilience, and most importantly, love, friendship, and humanity. We can all identity with some or all of these themes, which is why Mary Poppins resonates with everyone.
What is it like to act opposite each other? Have you worked together before?
Robbie: Rosa and I haven’t had the joy of working together before, but we are already seeking out future opportunities to perform, again. Ironically we have auditioned for roles on shows before but haven’t had the chance. Working together has been wonderful. To work with someone who you know has your back 100% and is so wonderfully supportive on and off the stage, it really is quite a joy.
Rosa: Robbie is an exceptionally talented performer (a true triple threat), with an absolute commitment to his character and the piece. A true perfectionist, his attention to detail and nuance is breathtaking, and has brought such depth to Bert and Mary on stage. If that wasn’t enough, Robbie is one of the most supportive, humble and encouraging performers I have had the pleasure of sharing the stage with, and is a delight to watch!
How have you found the experience of working with CLOC and the creative team?
Robbie: The CLOC machine is something else. It is exceptionally well oiled! It is actually quite overwhelming when you get to the point end of the rehearsal season and you actually discover how many people there are involved in putting a CLOC show on stage, so many people banding together for the same cause – it is quite amazing.
Rosa: CLOC is one of the most wonderful companies to work with and I feel so fortunate to be back after a few years away. The CLOC team have the greatest commitment to producing quality theatre, and yet through the professionalism there is also a strong sense of family and community. One the loveliest aspects, is working once again with the tirelessly committed team behind the scenes – the technical crew, costume and props team. The vision for Mary Poppins from Lynette and Chris White is inspired and will be a visual treat for audiences. Danny Forward is probably the loveliest MD in the business, and I can’t wait to hear the orchestra under his direction.
Everyone can sing lines from Mary Poppins, do you have a favourite quote?
Robbie: Oooooh this is a difficult question… Every time we are rehearsing a new favourite line or moment surfaces. The scene between Bert and Mr. Banks (which is identical in both the stage and screen versions) is particularly special, and a poignant moment to the plot. There’s a lovely phrase delivered from Bert to George; “You’ve got to grind… at that grindstone, while childhood slips like sand through a sieve, and before too soon they’ve up and grown, and then they’ve flown, and it’s too late for you to give”. The quote could be about anyone or any situation… Don’t let work or activity stop the life that’s right in front of you.
Rosa: I have two favourite lines (among many), the first taking place in the back scene where the children ask their father if when money is invested, does he look for a good man or a good idea. George’s answer is “…I suppose I should say it’s a good idea, but a good man is much rarer, and much more valuable.” The second is in the ‘Feed The Birds’ scene. When the children are turning their noses up at the Bird Woman for being old, dirty and poor, Mary Poppins replies, “When will you learn to look past what you see?” Wise words.
If you wish to see CLOC’s vision of Mary Poppins hit the stage, make sure to buy your tickets soon at the official CLOC website!