MARY POPPINS Breaks GTA Records; Extends Through November 21

The chill of autumn is slowly leaving for the cold of winter, but record numbers of north Georgia theatre goers are gathering around the warm glow of the Gainesville Theatre Alliance's production of MARY POPPINS. GTA, now in its 36th season, opened to sellout crowds for the stage production of P.L. Travers' classic story. The production has been extended for a third week of performances, now running through Nov. 21, and with a week and a half to go, MARY POPPINS has already broken GTA ticket and revenue records.

The Gainesville Theatre Alliance is a nationally acclaimed collaboration between University of North Georgia, Brenau University, Theatre Professionals and the Northeast Georgia Community. This year On Stage magazine announced GTA has the number one college theatre program in the Southeast.

MARY POPPINS was the protagonist in a series of children's books by P.L. Travers published, remarkably, from 1934 to 1988. It has been noted that Travers used her own family as inspiration for the stories and most speculated that MARY POPPINS is based on Travers's aunt. The story was then adapted by Walt Disney into an Academy Award winning movie starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke with celebrated music by Robert & Richard Sherman used in both the 1964 film and the Broadway show in 2004.

Certainly, one of the reasons for the record-breaking numbers is the ensemble of professional designers who have worked to take Poppins from a widely beloved film to live theatrical production. The director of MARY POPPINS, long-time GTA Artistic and Managing Director Jim Hammond, has directed over 40 productions for GTA including Almost Maine, Metamorphoses, Ragtime, Noises Off, Look Homeward Angel, and CHICAGO; as well as last season's productions of In the Heights and The Great Gatsby. Even with Hammond's experience on stage he still claims that MARY POPPINS is "a beast of a show." With over 24 scene changes and the challenge of bringing the Broadway production to Gainesville, Hammond says that he is honored to watch the progression of the students and cannot wait for the public to see it.

Hammond has a personal connection to this story as well. MARY POPPINS was the first movie he saw in cinemas when he was just six years old and has loved it ever since. He also saw the original West End production (the "Broadway" of England) over 10 years ago with his own children and was thrilled to see their love for the show that he felt at their age.

Music Director Dale Grogan is working with live musicians to keep up the Sherman Brothers' music tempo.

"The music of Les Miserables is child's play compared to this show - it is beautifully written and quite challenging for the cast to perfect," Grogan confides, adding that "the best reason to come to GTA's MARY POPPINS is to hear the music you have come to know and love, and a few pieces that will be brand new."

Choreographer Barbara Hartwig is a seasoned performer and director/choreographer and has been working with GTA since 1995. She directed and choreographed GTA's electric production of Oklahoma! last year and Guys and Dolls the year before.

"There is jazz, ballet and tap throughout MARY POPPINS," Hartwig said, admitting that incorporating all the different types of dance styles has been both exciting and challenging. Hartwig loves to use the students' individual talents in the performances and, for example, built in a giant broom toss for one "chimney sweep" who was a color guard in high school. Another major concern of hers is safety.

"In that show-stopping number that everyone loves, "Step in Time," There are a nearly 20 people dancing with chimney brooms at eye level - and focusing feet and not props could be disastrous!"

Larry Cook is transporting the audience to London as scenic designer for the production. Cook has been teleporting GTA audiences for a long time with his beautiful sets. Cook and the GTA technical crew began the set for MARY POPPINS in May. Cook said the show's physical complexity mirrors the music, a "choral arrangement (that) would bring Sondheim to tears." He also admitted that he stole from Bob Crowle, who did the original sets for the Broadway production, though there were many modifications for the Hosch theatre's more intimate setting.

Pamela Workman created the Victorian costumes for the production. She is anew addition to GTA's in-house professionals, following the retirement of Fred Lloyd retried last year. She is excited to bring out the magic in the show through costumes. There are over one 134 individual costume pieces that her GTA crew has been working hard on all semester. Workman emphasized the period details through each piece, using actual patterns from 1908 to create authenticity.

The lighting designer for the production is Kevin Frazer. Frazer was introduced to the world of lighting through Disney's classic film Fantasia, which was the first Disney film he saw. He states that as a boy he was mystified by how something so simple made him believe that music can bring anything to life.

"Since MARY POPPINS is about a family coming together with magic," he wondered aloud, can we still be swept up in magic, as modern audience that is jaded with wanting to know how things work?"

Jim Hammond's goal for GTA's production of MARY POPPINS is to redefine the way audiences see this story. Even though this story is famous for flying nannies and classic music, the true theme is the importance of parents. Hammond states, "no longer is the world filled with nannies and chalk art on sidewalks, but we will always have parents, who are the glue of this show."

The show runs through Nov. 21, with tickets ranging from $14 to $26 depending on patron age and seating location. Patrons can select their own seats at or by calling the GTA Box Office at 678-717-3624. ADA seating is available by calling the Box Office, and Phonic Ear devices and large print programs are available free of charge at all performances.

Pictured: Statues come to life and park visitors jump to synchronized dance as MARY POPPINS (center, played by Brenau junior Devon White) brings the world into perfect harmony, with visual assistance of over 100 costumes and a well-rehearsed cast of musical theatre majors from UNG and Brenau University. Photo Credit: Simpson Custom Photography.

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