STORY WRITTEN BY DAVID KLEINMAN
For 21st Century Media
America’s oldest theatre is welcoming a fresh face for their latest main stage production, “Mary Poppins.”
Arriving by flying umbrella with the aid of a pinch of magical dust, Lindsey Bliven is making her Walnut Street Theatre debut. She’s portraying the supernatural nanny beloved by audiences for eighty years since the character’s introduction in P.L. Travers’ classic children’s books.
After the story was brought to life 50 years ago by Julie Andrews in Disney’s celebrated film adaptation a musical transformation took London’s West End by storm a decade ago, consequently debuting long-running stage productions across the globe.
Following the show’s closure on Broadway last year Bliven served as understudy for the lead on a U.S. national tour, nabbing the title role in a regional production in Wichita with David Edler playing best friend Bert and director Wayne Bryan, both of whom will be joining Bliven at the Walnut.
“I’m thrilled, I can’t wait,” she gushed in a recent phone interview. “We discovered so many wonderful things the last time we did it but we only had about nine days [to rehearse], this time we have three weeks. We’re going to be able to dig deep and discover new moments throughout the show.”
Prior to rehearsals, Bliven’s preparation process includes listening to the score, looking over the script, re-reading Travers’s books as well researching the author’s inspirations for penning her literary series.
Although not as “Practically Perfect” as her character sings in the first and second act, Bliven also draws on her experiences moonlighting as a nanny during her downtime. Similarities abound between her and her on-stage alter-ego’s style of care taking.
“I expect quite a lot out of children,” she announced. “I expect them to clean up their room, to speak nicely to me and to other people as well. I will be pretty tough on them but in a very loving way, children need to learn how to be responsible. If that is not something they have been taught that’s OK, I don’t put judgement on the parents but I will teach them.”
An unfortunate comparison to the material in Bliven’s work as a caregiver is the families who bare resemblance to Mr. and Mrs. Banks: parents who are largely absent in their children’s upbringing, assigning the role to hired help.
“Unfortunately, a lot of the time with families in New York City that’s the way it’s going to be. The families spend quite a bit of time with a babysitter or a nanny and the parents are not seen very often. The children don’t see their father very much and when they do they don’t see him a good light.”
Bliven doesn’t think she should see herself so highly as to have had the transformation on a family as Mary Poppins does for The Banks’ but she does hope she can at the very least bring make the situation as enjoyable for the children as possible.
“I hope I bring joy to a family, I hope that the parents see me having fun with the children,” she said. “When I get to come back again parents will say ‘They’ve been talking about you the whole afternoon, they’ve been waiting for you to get here. They’re so excited.’ ”
In fact, some of the families she’s babysat for plan to attend Bliven’s Philadelphia performances, something she’s particularly looking forward to. But whoever’s in the audience for her her 75 performances of ‘Mary Poppins’ she’ll be putting a strong value on each of the renditions, making sure to do her absolute best.
“You have to think about kids who are seeing a show for the first time and the people who are unknowingly seeing a show for the last time so you have to make sure it counts. My director talked to me about that on the opening night of our tour, it’s really special.”
One of the more rewarding aspects of the performance doubles as one of the more challenging moments for the actress and the crew behind-the-scenes who make it happen, when Mary’s magical umbrella allows Bliven to soar far above the Walnut’s 200+ year old stage.
“I’m the type of person that likes to be in control always and I think I share that with Mary but when you’re in the air you have no control. On the more technical side, that time is [when] you just let someone take the reigns.
On the more magical side, it’s a wonderful feeling because it really brings the element of her magic, it really solidifies that. She is flying, it’s this wonderful thing to share with the audience that you all get to experience together.”
IF YOU GO
What: “Mary Poppins”
Where: Walnut Street Theatre, 825 Walnut St., Philadelphia.
When: Now through Jan. 4
Tickets: $20 – $95
Info.: Check www.walnutstreettheatre.com or call(215) 574-3550