Step in time: Bert’s ‘big opportunity’ in ‘Mary Poppins’ tour
Bert, the most affable character in “Mary Poppins” aside from the title nanny herself, breaks down the virtual fourth wall in productions of the Broadway musical, now on tour, by talking directly to the audience. Con O’Shea-Creal broke down another virtual wall, too, moving up to the permanent spot on the tour after being an understudy.
Understudies don’t know when they’ll go on stage, but are ready regardless. You’re always on your toes and it’s hard to fight those nerves, said O’Shea-Creal from a tour stop of “Mary Poppins” in Florida a few weeks ago. He joined the tour more than a year ago as ensemble and understudy and got the definitive role in September.
When Bert talks to the audience, depending on the venue’s lighting, O’Shea-Creal can see the audience’s faces or must speak conversationally into the black abyss, he said. He’s up to the task.
“This is a big opportunity,” he said. His previous work includes the Broadway and national tour of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” and regional productions of “Singin’ in the Rain” and “42nd Street.”
O’Shea-Creal got the role of Bert after 14 understudy performances where people from Disney and others “you would want to see you were in the audience when I needed them.”
He got the news about the London-set adaptation of the classic Disney film while riding in a London taxicab. The whole creative team is British, and a dialect coach helps O’Shea-Creal with Bert’s East side London voice.
O’Shea-Creal grew up in Lincoln, Neb., in a home where his mom liked to watch the Turner Classic Movies channel.
“We grew up watching old musicals. Definitely, ‘Mary Poppins’ was one of those,” he said. The Disney film “Mary Poppins,” based on the book by P.L. Travers, came out in 1964 starring Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins and Dick Van Dyke as Bert.
O’Shea-Creal remembers as a kid watching the popular “Mary Poppins” song and dance of “Step in Time” featuring Bert the chimney sweep. He wanted tap dance lessons and to pursue what he saw those guys doing in movies. As far as those chimneys, well, O’Shea-Creal said that London indeed has a “massive amount of chimneys.” In the show, he interacts with multiple props – a push broom, paintbrush and palette used by the jack-of-all-trades Bert.
The challenge of the props is to determine “what can I do to seem like I was born with all these in my hand.”
O’Shea-Creal said being on the “Mary Poppins” stage is a very fun, safe place to be and the rest of the cast is great.
“I’ve never been with a cast that stays so positive and professional. It’s really fun. The kids [actors who play Jane and Michael] make us laugh, too,” he said.
Last month the “Mary Poppins” tour cast saw their doppelgangers when the tour stopped in Orlando, Fla., and the cast went to Walt Disney World. The national tour continues until June.
WHAT: Broadway tour of “Mary Poppins”
WHEN: Tuesday through Feb. 17
WHERE: Durham Performing Arts Center
123 Vivian St., Durham