"Mary Poppins" Play To Begin World Tour

**FILE**Gavin Lee dances as Bert in a dress rehearsal of the London production of the musical "Mary Poppins" on Dec. 10, 2004. Lee and Ashley Brown, who currently stars in the long-running musical, "Beauty and the Beast," will portray Bert the chimney sweep and the world's most famous nanny when "Mary Poppins" opens on Broadway, Nov. 16, 2006, at the New Amsterdam Theatre, the producers announced Monday, May 8, 2006. (AP Photo/John D McHugh)
AP Photo/John D McHugh
The stage version of "Mary Poppins" will soon by flying around the world, say producers Thomas Schumacher and Cameron Mackintosh.

The New York production, now in its second year on Broadway, has recouped its investment, both producers announced Wednesday, and plans are under way to unleash the show globally with a North American tour, a British tour, an Australian production and licensing agreements in foreign countries.

"All at once, we have a lot of `Poppins,"' said Thomas Schumacher, president of Disney Theatrical Productions.

The musical, based on the P.L. Travers stories and the 1964 Disney film, represents a sizable investment for both producers.

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Although Disney doesn't reveal the cost of its shows, most large Broadway musicals today cost between $12 million-$15 million and "Mary Poppins," with its big cast, lavish sets and period costumes, is larger than most.

In addition, all the New York principals, including Ashley Brown in the title role and Gavin Lee as Bert the chimney sweep, have signed on for another 12 months, something of a rarity these days. "They love doing it," Schumacher said.

The North American tour will originate at the Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago, premiering there on March 25, 2009.

Productions have also been licensed for Stockholm, Sweden (October 2008), Copenhagen, Denmark (January 2009), and Budapest, Hungary (September 2009) - with more to come, including China and South Africa.

The London production, which opened in December 2004, will close in January after a three-year run. A four-city tour of Great Britain begins next June in Plymouth, England, and that production will go on to Australia, where it will open in autumn 2009, according to Mackintosh.

Touring the mammoth show was made possible by reworking designer Bob Crowley's elaborate sets, primarily the Banks house, home to the children who are supervised by the world's most practically perfect nanny.

"We've rebuilt the house," Mackintosh said. "It works in a very different way. It still opens up to be more or less what you've seen (on Broadway), but how it does that is different."

"We will have the ability to sit longer as well as to move swiftly," said Schumacher, talking about the requirements of touring, which usually means a show closes on a Saturday or Sunday in one city and then reopens in another as early as the following Tuesday. So the set needs to be dismantled and transported quickly.

And this stage version has proven to be surprisingly popular with adult audiences, according to Schumacher.

"The show is perhaps perceived by people who go to it very differently than the way the media talk about it, which is as `the Disney children's show,"' the producer said. "When you think about it, `Mary Poppins' is the only classic musical playing on Broadway now. It's lush. It's big. It has fantastic songs. It's a story you are familiar with but perhaps haven't seen told this way. That's the pocket of people it hits.

"If you're 12 years old, you're not that interested in `Mary Poppins.' But if you are in that 35 to 40 to 60 range, the classic Broadway musical audience, it's absolutely up your alley."

By Michael Kuchwara