- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 21, 2003

LONDON - “Mary Poppins,” the 1964 Disney film about a magical nanny that won Julie Andrews an Academy Award in the title role, is being reinvented for the theater as the latest stage musical to draw inspiration from a well-known movie.

The production will mark the first collaboration between Cameron Mackintosh, the British theater impresario behind such global hits as “Cats,” “Les Miserables” and “The Phantom of the Opera,” and the theater division of Walt Disney Co. — whose shows include “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Lion King” and “Aida.”

Richard Eyre, head of Britain’s National Theatre, will direct. The musical, which has not been cast, will open Dec. 15, 2004, at the Prince Edward Theatre on the West End after a seven- or eight-week out-of-town tryout. Rehearsals will start in July, producers said Monday.

“The fusion actually has created something which is fresh,” says Mr. Mackintosh, who met several times with Pamela Travers, the Australian author of the various novels on which the movie version was based.

Drawing from the beloved film and extensively from Miss Travers’ books, “Mary Poppins” onstage will be “something familiar but which has its own life, which is what one always strives for with any adaptation of anything,” Mr. Mackintosh says.

For the theater production, the Oscar-winning score by brothers Richard and Robert Sherman will be enhanced by half a dozen or more new songs by the younger English songwriting team of George Stiles (music) and Anthony Drewe (lyrics).

That means playgoers can expect “A Spoonful of Sugar” and the Oscar-winning best song, “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” but also new numbers, several of which, “Brimstone and Treacle” and “Practically Perfect,” are already generating a buzz.

“Hopefully, everyone will get their favorite moment,” Mr. Stiles says.

During a recent London read-through of the musical for an invited audience that included Disney Chief Executive Michael Eisner, Mr. Drewe played Dick van Dyke’s screen role, Bert; two-time Olivier Award-winner Joanna Riding sang the role of Mary Poppins.

In probably the greatest departure from the film, British actress-singer Julia McKenzie played Miss Andrew, a character prominently featured in the books but not in the movie.

The book writer for the stage musical is Julian Fellowes, the one-time actor who won an Oscar last year for his “Gosford Park” screenplay.

In an interview, Mr. Fellowes said that in returning to Miss Travers’ three main Poppins books and other works, the aim “was to invigorate a show by going back to its source.”

These days, more and more theater musicals (“The Full Monty,” “The Witches of Eastwick,” “Footloose”) derive inspiration from films, where once the creative flow of traffic went the other way.

Among London’s current hits is a stage adaptation of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” which itself began life as a film with a Sherman brothers score.

Mr. Mackintosh says he thinks the time for a stage “Poppins” is now. “The whole notion of having a nanny — which in the ‘70s and ‘80s seemed something from a bygone era — now no longer is. Most people with a bit of money have nannies,” he says.

Still, with eight months to go until rehearsals and a 30-member cast still to be signed, Mr. Mackintosh sounds reluctant to make too many claims on the musical’s behalf.

“The show materially is in pretty good shape — as much as one can be that hasn’t gone into rehearsal,” he says.

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