THIS WEEKEND, take in a musical that’s practically perfect in every way.
The story of the most magical nanny to walk—and glide—on Earth can be found in the pages of P.L. Travers’ books, a Disney film adaptation, and, now, on the Savannah Children’s Theatre stage.
“Mary Poppins is one of those things that appeals to the multigenerational,” says Savannah Children’s Theatre Artistic Director Kelie Miley. “Parents have seen the movie, a lot of adults and older kids have seen the recent movie Saving Mr. Banks. It’s appealing, fun, and a little bit magical. That’s kept its appeal over the decades.”
In the classic story, English nanny Mary Poppins is blown by the East wind to Number 17 Cherry Tree Lane, the home of the Banks family. Through musical numbers, tough love, and whimsy, Mary helps the children, Jane and Michael, and their parents, George and Winifred, mend their strained relationships and learn to love and support one another.
Laura Keena Wild stars as the leading lady in a role that, Miley delightedly shares, “she was born to play.”
Wild, who welcomed her first child in January, was not expecting to be flying across stages and tap-dancing come May, but she has embraced the role.
“It has been such an amazing process for me,” she says. “It has been so exciting and humbling, and it’s going to be really fun.”
The luminous Julie Andrews defined the role of Mary Poppins and, though the musical is adapted from the Disney film version, Wild is striving to put her own spin on the character.
“There’s a lot of homage-paying, but I don’t want to do an impersonation or caricature of her,” she says. “But it’s been a challenge!”
Indeed, Andrews’ Poppins is among the most engrossing characters of all time—stern, tender, impossibly magical and deeply imaginative.
“Kelie and I joke that she’s half-human, half-god,” Wild laughs.
For an enchanted show like Mary Poppins, the Theatre gets to take on many unique challenges, from Mary’s iconic flight-by-umbrella entrance to the classic chimney sweep dance on rooftops.
“There’s a lot of special effects,” says Miley. “Our choreographer and all of our people have worked really well to make that look good.”
If you feel supercalifragilisticexpialidocious about Disney’s original songs, you’ll be delighted to hear that there’s even more to sing about in the musical production.
“A really lovely addition is that Mrs. Banks has her own song,” says Wild.
There are a few differences between the film and stage production that Wild notes.
“One of the biggest changes in this reworking of the musical is that we meet Ms. Andrews, the bad nanny from George Banks’s past. She’s really, really mean and scary, and she doesn’t have any magic. She’s the only person Mary treats without empathy. [Mary] definitely cares about everybody—she’s there to fix things and to fix the family...but Ms. Andrews is a terrifying character. Laura Dutton is playing her and she’s just amazing and embodying the character with such relish.”
Wild has also enjoyed working alongside the wonderful youth of Savannah Children’s Theatre.
“I love Jane and Michael Banks so much!” she smiles. “I had worked with Truman [Nash] before, but it’s my first time working with Rose [Ottimo]. They are both such good people, just good, tiny human beings, and I’m having such a good time with them. I think they are perfectly cast, and it’s just been a blast.”
The Children’s Theatre looks forward to reveling in a familiar classic but also finding something new to love about a classic story.
“Most of the music, everybody knows,” Miley says. “It’s very fun to see a show where you don’t know quite what to expect, but are familiar with some of it.”
“I think that people should come expecting a little familiarity, but also a little unfamiliarity,” says Wild. “This story has all the fun stuff you know, but you’re also going to see little surprises.”