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Mary Poppins Launches Tour in Lowcountry

Production wraps weeks of local rehearsals with four performances.

As the curtain rises on Mary Poppins Wednesday night , excuse the cast if they look like they're at home.

The theater has played host for the past several weeks for company rehearsals. After a four-night run in North Charleston, they'll be launching the national tour.

Mary Poppins is about a London family learning life's lessons with the help of the iconic magical nanny and Bert, a friendly chimney sweep.

Disney and producer Cameron Mackintosh opened the successful stage musical in late 2004 in London. It's obviously meant to capitalize on the nostalgia of the 1964 film, with many of the memorable songs like "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" and "Chim Chim Cher-ee."

But, as tour director Anthony Lyn notes, the musical goes back even further to the original stories by P.L. Travers.

"The movie is a masterpiece, but the movie bears some, but not an enormous amount of relationship to P.L. Travers original novels," said Lyn. "In order to make our story tell well, to make it as rich or richer than the movie, we've dove back into the P.L. Travers stories to give the whole family more of an arch."

The production incorporates the film's familiar songs from Robert and Richard Sherman, as well as new music and lyrics from George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, with a script by Julian Fellowes. 

"People come expecting the film on stage and get something that is ultimately much deeper," Lyn said of the banker and his family who learn the perils of the business.

"It's talking about trying to refocus outside money and jobs on what is important in life, and the importance of family." 

The choreography of this second national tour follows in the foot of his predecessors on the West End and Broadway, by allowing the choreography to conform to the actors and ensemble as opposed to the other way around.

"It was developing movement," said tour choreographer Geoffrey Garratt, who was associate choreographer on the London production. "The key thing is that once we create a company of characters, it's the characters that dance."

As Mary Poppins, Rachel Wallace revels in the freedom.

"While many people are doing the same choreography, it's not the Rockettes where everything is uniform," she said. "As a performer, that is incredibly exciting."

For Wallace, the entire experience has been a dream come true. She was in school as the original Broadway production began in New York and saw the show several times. She said she'd walk by the theater and kiss the poster out front.

"My heart ached because I wasn't involved," she said. "I just felt like I wanted to be in that building. My heart needed to be involved."

Already involved, Case Dillard was a member of the company for the Broadway production and the first national tour. And he is now taking on the important role of Bert.

"I've had so many different thoughts and ideas about it," he said, noting he's been encouraged to be himself on stage. "People come who expect the movie — expect Dick Van Dyke. To reproduce his characterization wouldn't do justice to the role."

Those familiar with the Broadway show may worry about a traveling show. Fear not, flying, dancing on the ceiling and the other magical moments of are very much still a part of this production.

"Most of the flying is the same as Broadway," said Garratt. "You think, we're bound not to do this or not to do that. We were absolutely adamant to keep those moments in it. So you'll get a real treat."

, playing at 7:30 p.m., Feb. 1-4, at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center. Tickets are $50-$80.

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