Mary Poppins has been on a journey with children of all ages since 1934, first as a popular children’s book series by P.L. Travers, then as one of the most popular Disney films of all time, and now as a hit stage musical. From the beginning, the “practically perfect” nanny has enchanted millions of people around the world by showing how to see the magic in everyday life.
P.L. Travers wrote many children’s books over her career, but she is most remembered for the character Mary Poppins. The first book in a series of eight was “Mary Poppins” about the mysterious nanny and the family who lived at “No. 17, Cherry Tree Lane.” It was well-received by children, but also by respected authors and celebrity figures such as T.S. Elliot, Sylvia Plath, Princess Margaret, and Caroline Kennedy. It wasn’t until the early 1940s that Walt Disney heard of Mary Poppins, when his daughter Diane, who had become an avid fan of Travers’ series, brought her to his attention. When Disney approached Travers with the proposition for a movie, she refused. So began Disney’s fifteen-year campaign of attention, flattery, and transcontinental telegrams and visits to gain the rights to “Mary Poppins.” Eventually, Travers succumbed to Disney’s adamant courtship on the conditions that she received a hundred thousand dollars plus a cut of the gross, and, as seen at the center of the recent movie “Saving Mr. Banks” starring Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers and Tom Hanks as Walt Disney, she demanded script approval.
By the beginning of 1961, the plot for the Disney film had been outlined, several songs had been drafted by the famous Sherman brothers and a studio artist named Don DaGradi had created hundreds of sketches to convey the look of the film. The original Disney movie starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke made its world premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood in 1964, where it received a five-minute standing ovation at its conclusion. The film received 13 Academy Award nominations, and won five including Best Actress, Best Visual Effects, Best Film Editing, Best Score and Best Original Song for “Chim Chim Cher-ee.” David Tietyen, author of “The Musical World of Walt Disney” wrote, “It was a total synthesis of all that was Disney – animation, music, special effects, outstanding art and superb casting and acting.”
In 1994, two years before her death, Travers sold the theatrical rights for Mary Poppins to producer Cameron Mackintosh. At the end of the 40th year anniversary of the film, Walt Disney Theatrical partnered with Cameron Mackintosh to bring the beloved nanny to the stage. Drawing from the classic film for inspiration, they assembled a dynamic creative team to combine the original film score with new songs as well as additional stories from Travers’ other Poppins tales. Composers George Stiles and Anthony Drewe were brought in to work with the original film’s songwriters, Richard and Robert Sherman, to create new songs and merge them into the show along with the existing songs from the film. The new musical opened in December 2004 in London’s West End, premiering at the Bristol Hippodrome for a limited engagement, then moving to the Prince Edward Theatre, making Mary Poppins the only Disney musical to have premiered in the U.K. and the first to have been associated with another theatrical company outside itself. The original production received two Olivier Awards, one for Best Actress in a Musical and the other for Best Theatre Choreography. The London production closed on January 12, 2008, after a run of just over three years.
While the London production was thriving in the West End, the Broadway production debuted on November 16, 2006, at the New Amsterdam Theatre. Many critics praised the show for its phenomenally magical technical work. At the 2007 Tony Awards ceremony, Bob Crowley won an award for scenic design and the show received a total of seven Tony Award nominations. The Broadway production closed to a sold-out house in March 2013 after a six year run consisting of 2,619 performances.
Because Mary Poppins has gained the reputation of a high-flying technical masterpiece, the Ogunquit Playhouse has enlisted the fabulous Flying by Foy, the most prolific and widely-respected theatrical flying system company in the world. Since its establishment by the innovative and revolutionary Peter Foy in 1957, Flying by Foy has provided flying effects for Broadway shows, London’s West End, regional theatres, ballet and opera companies, theme parks, cruise ships, concert tours, feature films and television productions worldwide. The world-renowned company partnered with the Ogunquit Playhouse this season to make young Billy Elliot soar during the dream ballet and now returns to bring the high flying magic of Mary Poppins to our stage.