While most people might hear the title “Mary Poppins” and instantly think it’s a kid’s musical, Olney director Jason King Jones doesn’t feel that way at all.
“I think, for me, it’s a story for grownups. How we as adults want to present ourselves to the younger generation and what we want the younger generation to be as we are responsible for them,” he says. “It’s a story that has kids and kids will enjoy, but really it’s a story for fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters and all of us, really.”
When Jones was offered the chance to direct Olney Theatre Center’s holiday production, Disney and Cameron Mackintosh’s Mary Poppins, faster than you can say “Supercalifragalisticexpialidocious,” Jones was aboard.
“The movie is a childhood favorite of mine growing up and I love in the movie how it continues to unfold and surprise you,” he says. “It’s everything as a kid you wanted to do.”
Although he doesn’t remember the first time he actually saw the movie, Jones does distinctly remember the dancing penguins, Dick Van Dyke and the athleticism that was required during “Step in Time” and the rooftop leaping.
“I remember these kids being happy about breaking the rules and being with an adult figure who seems to make it ok to break the rules,” he says. “I remember the songs, the images of these fanciful things that happened and although it doesn’t appear in the musical, I loved the floating tea party.”
Based on both the classic Walt Disney film and the unique cast off characters of the eight children’s books by P.L. Travers, the musical follows Mary Poppins and her affect on the Banks family at 17 Cherry Tree Lane.
“The story is slightly different than the movie as it brings other characters into the world, relying more heavily on the other stories of P.L. Travers,” Jones says. “That creates other story lines and adds interesting people that makes it a larger world.”
With a book by Julian Fellowes, music by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman, and new songs and music by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, Mary Poppins is a story that’s familiar to just about everyone. When Jane and Michael, the children of the wealthy and uptight Banks family, are faced with the prospect of a new nanny, they are pleasantly surprised by the arrival of the magical Mary Poppins.
“I’m drawn to these kind of stories. At its core, to me, Mary Poppins is a story about what it means to be a good parent,” Jones says. “I’m a father of two and I think about that. In the story you have a family that is out of sorts. They are not listening to each other and are falling apart. They think the solution is to have a nanny who can fix it and make everything better but the family has deeper problems than that and what she does is awakens them to seeing the world in a different way.”
In essence, what the titular nanny does is help the family embrace a world they thought was impossible and allows them to be open to the possibility of the impossible.
“She helps them take their blinders off,” Jones says. “She’s the catalyst for the family healing and I was drawn to that.”
Jones has worked at Olney since 2012 and the cast has a number of actors he has worked with before, and many vets of the theater, including Patricia Hurley as Mary Poppins.
“She’s done a lot of work here at Olney (Camelot, Peter Pan, the Musical among the musicals), and this is her first time back in a while after spending some time being a mother herself,” he says. “She couldn’t be more perfect in the role.”
For the part of Bert, Jones discovered Rhett Guter during auditions in New York, and was quick to sign him to the cast.
“He’s originally from Utah and he’s just fantastic,” he says. “He’s dynamic and puts a lot of heart into it, and that’s what we needed for Bert. A lot of people can do song and dance, but we needed a confident and giving actor, and that’s Rhett.”
Opens November 2, 2016
closes January 1, 2017
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Playing the Banks children are a pair of young actors in each role; Audrey Kilgore and Katharine Ford are double cast as Jane, while Henry Mason and Tyler Smallwood both play Michael.
“The kids are charming and really sharp and talented,” Jones says. “They are all big musical theater fans and they know Hamilton better than I know Hamilton. They are singing all the time.”
Speaking of Hamilton, its creator, Lin Manuel Miranda, is currently shooting Disney’s sequel to Mary Poppins alongside Emily Blunt, but Jones says the resurgence of the movie brand wasn’t the reason Olney decided to do the musical at this time.
“We’ve been planning this for a couple of years and weren’t reacting to that,” he says. “It’s not a surprise that there’s this idea of culturally wanting to revisit the story and live a world of wonder and fancy. It’s what makes the musical so charming.”
Although there aren’t major changes from the Broadway version of the show, Jones notes that as interpretive artists, they are digging deeply into the story and bringing the heart of the play out.
“For people who saw this on Broadway or on tour, they may have been wowed by the spectacles, and we have tons of that in this show. We even brought in the original illusion designer to lend his time and talent to make this story truly magical,” he says. “The show is very physical and we’ve asked a question on many levels: what does magic mean and how does it reveal itself? There’s a lot of heart in this story and the story of the family is put front and center.”
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