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Published by The Oklahoman – Read original article here

Originally published on July 5, 2015

Photo - <p>Mary Poppins (Lindsie VanWinkle) and Bert (Jeremy Benton) share a dance in this scene from the Lyric Theatre production of “Mary Poppins.” [Photo by KO Rinearson]</p>

Lyric Theatre brings magic of MARY POPPINS to Oklahoma City

Tuesday through Saturday, Oklahoma City’s Lyric Theatre will present the first locally staged production of “Mary Poppins,” a popular musical that draws inspiration from both the Disney film and P.L. Travers’ books.

One could argue that P.L. Travers was the literary precursor to J.K. Rowling. Each author created a series of books whose title characters set out on a series of magical adventures. Their respective books, published 63 years apart, turned Mary Poppins and Harry Potter into household names.

Travers became extremely protective of her stories about a magical British nanny, so much so that she nearly prevented Walt Disney and Cameron Mackintosh from turning them into a motion picture and a stage musical, respectively.

Thankfully, Disney and Mackintosh prevailed, and today, both the Academy Award-winning film and the Tony Award-winning stage version of “Mary Poppins” have earned legions of fans.

This week, Lyric Theatre will present the first locally staged production of the popular musical, one that draws inspiration from both the Disney film and Travers’ books. That duality also extends to the score, one that features songs by film composers Richard and Robert Sherman and the stage musical’s George Stiles and Anthony Drewe.

Joe Deer, an acclaimed theater director who helmed Lyric performances of “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Sugar” and “The Goodbye Girl” in the early 1990s, returns to direct the second musical in Lyric’s 2015 summer season.

Heading the cast are Jeremy Benton as Bert, Jonathan Beck Reed and Melissa Griffith as George and Winifred Banks, Addie Wagner and Michael James as their children Jane and Michael, Marilyn Govich as Miss Andrew and Lindsie VanWinkle as Mary Poppins.

“Since many people today grew up with the Disney film, I think this production will absolutely satisfy those who have a Disney itch to scratch,” Deer said. “Lindsie and Jeremy have the essence of what we love about Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, but they’ve really made the roles their own.”

Strong feel for roles

VanWinkle admitted she identifies strongly with the musical’s title character because in addition to being cared for by a nanny as a child, she subsequently became a nanny for a family of young girls.

“I’ve borrowed from the strong, dominant people in my life – powerful and beautiful women who also had a wicked sense of humor,” VanWinkle said. “Like them, Mary Poppins teaches grand life lessons to the Banks children – little nuggets like the importance of being kind to people.

“But even when she has to lay down the law, she’s impish and just a little cheeky. I’ve had a lot of fun offstage trying to keep the kids on their toes. I’m also looking forward to flying in this production. I wasn’t nervous about it until I saw just how high the proscenium was.”

Benton, who played the role of Kenneth Gibson in Lyric’s 2012 staging of “Call Me Madam” and choreographed last season’s “A Little Night Music,” said he has frequently been compared to Dick Van Dyke, the film’s chimney sweep Bert.

“I think that was because of my stature and the way I dance,” Benton said. “Of course, I always wanted to be a song and dance man, so I knew someday I had to play this role. To me, Bert is like a familiar friend, and I feel like I’m in my element playing him.

“When describing Bert, I keep coming back to the word conduit. He paints a picture of what people are about to see. But he often does that through dance. It’s as if Bert is turning the pages of the book for you.”

Irrepressible duo

The stage musical never alludes to how Bert and Mary became acquainted, but they’re an irrepressible duo with a fascination for magic and enchantment. The true essence of “Mary Poppins,” though, is how one nanny magically transforms a highly dysfunctional family.

“Unfortunately, George learned how to be a daddy the wrong way,” Deer said. “He’s inattentive to his wife, and his kids act out. Mary Poppins’ job is to put the family back together, and she ends up teaching important lessons to every member of the family.

“The majority of folks who will come see this production have an attachment to the story because of their fond memories of the film. It brings them back to a wonderful nostalgic place.

“I also think most good stories are autobiographical because they give us a view into our own lives. ‘Mary Poppins’ does that through an amazing and beautiful story told with charm and humor.”