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London’s Original Mary Poppins & Bert Together Again & Flying High on Broadway

August 10, 2010 - by Griffin Miller, Theatre Editor
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The original stage Mary Poppins and Bert, Laura Michelle Kelly and Gavin Lee, were the first to leave U.K. theatre audiences awestruck in late 2004 -- two years before Disney brought the magical, umbrella-propelled nanny and her chimney sweep/jack-of-all-trades cohort to Broadway.

Then, in 2006, Lee crossed the Atlantic for the musical’s New York debut opposite another “Practically Perfect” Mary, Ashley Brown. But it wasn’t until 2009, well after he had left the New York cast, that Kelly (who picked up an Olivier Award for her performance in London) packed up her enchanted carpetbag and floated into the New Amsterdam Theatre -- her U.S. home-away-from-home since last October.

Meanwhile, Lee -- who earned a Tony nomination and a caricature at Sardi’s -- went on to join the show’s North American Touring Company, where he performed for President and Michelle Obama and first daughters Malia and Sasha this past July at Washington’s Ford Theatre.

Finally (beginning August 24th to be exact), Kelly and Lee will be star-crossed co-stars no more when they reunite as Mary and Bert on the Great White Way!

“We are enormously excited that, at long last, Broadway will get to see the sublime on-stage pairing of Laura Michelle Kelly and Gavin Lee, our original Mary and Bert,” notes Thomas Schumacher, producer/president of Disney Theatrical Productions. “Their winning chemistry and star power delighted London audiences and critics alike and now New York has the opportunity to see them together.”

No exaggeration here. When the hit family musical opened at the Prince Edward Theatre in London’s West End the reviews were sparkling, with the BBC describing Kelly and Lee as “perfectly partnered.” The broadcast giant went on to hail Kelly as “a major new star in the theatrical firmament,” and kvelled over Lee’s show-stopping number during which he commandeers the proscenium arch for a gravity-defying tap-a-thon.

For Broadway audiences, the opportunity to catch these two Poppins pioneers is irresistible... as irresistible as the show itself, bubbling with spectacular music and endless charm -- from the opening notes of “Chim Chim Cher-ee” to the cavalcade of surprises that pop up around every nook, cranny, tree, banister, statue and chimney.

And unquestionably, it’s the unexpected -- from little touches like cameo appearances by the adorable puppet dog Willoughby to the “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” candy shop teeming with multicolored eccentrics -- that make the show so universally appealing.

Produced by Disney and Cameron Mackintosh, Mary Poppins is based on the beloved children’s stories by P.L. Travers (yes, liberties have been taken so purists beware!) and the 1964 Oscar-winning film starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke.

Set in London, much of the action takes place at “No. 17 Cherry Lane,” the Victorian home of the Banks family, whose problems prior to Miss Poppin’s arrival mirror some very contemporary issues: father George is a workaholic who sinks into depression when he loses his job; mother Winifred, a former actress, is floundering in the role of wife and mother; and the children, Jane and Michael, selfish, are spoiled and craving both attention and affection from their absentee dad.

Fortunately, Mary’s wondrous hocus-pocus comes wrapped up in timeless life lessons that can’t help but strike a chord with today’s young theatergoers, who automatically reach for their cell phones during intermission yet gaze in breathless wonder as the world’s most celebrated nanny flies over their heads in a breathtaking grand finale.

And, like all gifts from Disney, the happy ending for the Banks family extends to the audience, who exit the theatre blissfully humming “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” and craving another helping of “A Spoonful of Sugar.”

Mary Poppins is playing at the New Amsterdam Theater (214 W. 42nd St.). For reservations, call 866-870-2717 or click here.

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