As the Broadway production of Mary Poppins comes to a close, BroadwayWorld has been in touch with the award-winning creative team that put together the hit musical years ago. In the interview below, composer George Stiles, lyricist Anthony Drewe, choreographer Stephen Mear and director Richard Eyre chat about how they got involved with the show, reveal some of thier favorite Poppins memories, and share what being a part of the magic has meant to them.
How and when did you all become a part of the MARY POPPINS team?
STILES: I became involved a very long time ago when we heard that Cameron [Mackintosh] was working on it. We heard this rumor that they might be adding new songs, though we couldn't work out why, because we thought that the ones from the film were perfectly fabulous. So we had a look at the film and we thought that we could write a new song when Mary measures herself. I went ahead and wrote a number there. We left the song on Cameron's desk- it was recorded by a good friend of ours that does a great Julie Andrews impersonation, and we made it sound as much like The Sherman Brothers as we could. We realized that whatever the new songs were that they would have to blend.
Then he emailed us the next morning something to the effect of 'Where the hell did that come from? Will you write me some more?' And then it was just waiting eight years for him and Disney to figure out how to do a show together.
EYRE: It would be about eight or nine years ago, when I was working in New York doing a play called VINCENT IN BRIXTON. I had a call from Cameron Mackintosh and he said, "I want you to do MARY POPPINS." He sent me the script and the books, and I was very, very taken by the books. I knew the movie- I had seen it when I was a student, but because I was a student at the time and not a child, it didn't make a very strong impression on me. So I read it and I fell in love with it. And then I was involved from the very beginning in developing it.
MEAR: I remember Cameron [Mackintosh] approaching me about it; I think it was when I was doing ANYTHING GOES in town. He wanted two choreographers to give different qualities to the show. I think it was about a year before we actually went into production. At the time we were both apprehensive about it, but it worked out brilliantly in the end actually. We both brought such different things to the show. I think that the show wouldn't have been as good if either of us had done it on our own.
The show will have been open on Broadway for 6.5 years- quite a remarkable run. Did you expect it to be around this many years later?
EYRE: I hoped it would be. But I don't think I did. I didn't go into thinking 'This is going to be around for 20 years! This is gonna be like THE LION KING!' I thought that it was a great show and that it ought to run. It deserved to run.
DREWE: I hoped that it would, but you never know! In the theatre you never really know. The fact that it's on Broadway is something of a miracle. That it lasted a week is a miracle. That it lasted over six years is extraordinary. The fact that it has lasted twice as long on Broadway as it did in the UK shows how much love there is from American audiences. Even though it's set in London at the turn of the century, it's because of the film that brought that nanny into so many homes, that it's so embraced as an American story. When I was growing up, shows just didn't run that long. I think that MY FAIR LADY ran for a couple of years, but when I started working, prior to CATS and LES MISERABLES, and THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, that didn't happen.
STILES: The whole thing has been the most unexpected amazing experience. Six years on Broadway is an extraordinary thing. I hoped that it would if we did our job right. The original is so fantastic, the movie, the books are full of wit and character... but of course musicals are like alchemy. It's mixing together base metals and hoping to come up with something that doesn't just glitter but really is gold.