Chimney Sweep

Nationwide touring manufacturing of ‘Mary Poppins’ involves Oklahoma Metropolis

For those pursuing a career in musical theater, life on tour can be a blessing and a curse. Casting a touring production of a Broadway musical means steady work—eight performances a week, a sizable paycheck, and a per diem that covers food, lodging, and other related expenses.

But traveling to a different city every week can take its toll on any artist, regardless of age. Being on the road also means living out of a suitcase for months. Additionally, an actor might be in San Francisco when an important audition takes place in New York.

For the two leads on the Disney/Cameron Mackintosh tour of “Mary Poppins,” which opens in Oklahoma City on Election Day, this show is a major credit on their resumes and an opportunity they are eager to take advantage of. The hardships of the road obviously didn't dampen their spirits.

Con O'Shea-Creal, a 2008 graduate of the University of Oklahoma, plays the cheerful chimney sweep Bert. University of Michigan graduate Madeline Trumble plays the title character in the musical that made young Julie Andrews famous.

Although both contracts run until January, the young actors approached their roles very differently. As a student at Michigan, Trumble had limited performance opportunities because the musical theater program was so competitive.

“I never thought I could do this,” Trumble said recently. “In college I did a few plays and a few ensemble roles, but this role seemed so out of reach. Because of my performance, I got the audition (“Mary Poppins”) and then got about three callbacks before I was hired as an understudy for the tour. That’s why I appreciate getting this role even more.”

In contrast, O'Shea-Creal worked steadily as a student at OU, landing roles in “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” “Anything Goes,” “Company” and “Urinetown.” He has also been cast in Lyric Theater productions of “Swing!” and “42nd Street” and appeared in four consecutive productions of the Oklahoma City Philharmonic’s “A Very Merry Pops.”

After graduating, O'Shea-Creal went to New York, where he quickly landed roles in the Broadway musical White Christmas (limited holiday runs in 2008 and 2009), Annie Get Your Gun at the Goodspeed Opera House, and Singin' in the Rain in Westchester, NY

Resilience pays off

All along, this versatile performer had his eye on the role of the chimney sweep in Mary Poppins.

“For a song and dance man, Bert was a role that was always on my radar,” O'Shea-Creal said recently. “I didn’t know if it would happen, but I was determined to do whatever it took to get there.

“I first auditioned for Mary Poppins in 2008 when I was in White Christmas. From that point on I probably went there about ten times every year. I showed up so many times that they knew what song I was going to sing. I also got to the point where I didn't think I could audition for the show anymore.

“But I criticized every aspect of my audition and stuck with it. Last year I think I was called back 14 times. A great gift of this experience is resilience. You audition no matter how many times you are asked. It finally worked for me. I was understudy to Bert for about five months and while I was on a break from the show, I got the call that I would be taking on the role.”

Based on the Mary Poppins novels by PL Travers and the 1964 Disney film, the stage musical premiered in London in December 2004. Laura Michelle Kelly won an Olivier Award for her role as Mary Poppins; The production also won an award for choreography.

The Broadway production premiered at the New Amsterdam Theater in New York in November 2006 and won a Tony Award for Best Scenic Design the following June. The production is still playing to sold-out crowds and celebrates its six-year anniversary on November 16th.

Nine of the film's 17 musical numbers – written by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman – were adapted for the stage production, which was subsequently supplemented by seven new songs by British songwriters George Stiles and Anthony Drewe.

O'Shea-Creal said that after hearing one of Stiles and Drewe's new numbers, one of the Sherman brothers reportedly called it “the best song he had never written.”

The opportunity to perform in the city where you were born or where you went to school is a highlight for actors in any touring production. This will be O'Shea-Creal's first opportunity to return to Oklahoma City. There are also plans to conduct master classes for OU musical theater students.

“My whole family is from Nebraska and the OU musical theater school purchased a block of tickets for the show,” O'Shea-Creal said. “Performing in Oklahoma will allow me to give back and thank everyone at OU, the Lyric Theater and the Philharmonic for giving me such great opportunities.”

Mary Poppins (Madeline Trumble) and Bert (Con O'Shea-Creal) share an enchanting moment in the Tony Award-winning musical.  Photo by Jeremy Daniel Photo by Jeremy Daniel

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button