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BWW Interviews: MARY POPPINS' Karen Murphy

MARY POPPINS has been a Disney favorite for so many children, including myself, for quite some time. The story is one that most can relate to whether a child is learning about growing up and developing love and respect, or a parent is learning about nurturing their children and understanding that kids need time to just be kids. While the lessons of the story are important, it is the music, dance, and characters that truly make this story exciting and magical.

In light of the national tour of MARY POPPINS soon making its way to New Orleans, I spoke with Karen Murphy who plays both the Bird Woman and Miss Andrew in the show each night. We discussed some of the similarities and differences between the stage production and the movie that is so loved, as well as each of her characters and one of her favorite moments in the show.

You have been a part of quite a few other Broadway and off-Broadway productions, but I would imagine being in a Disney production is quite different, especially with the nature of the audiences that are coming to see this production. What is your favorite part about being in a Disney show, especially one that is so iconic?

It has its own specialness. People are in love with us before they come in the door, and one of the things I just love when I'm going to work is to see the families getting out of their cars and anxiously walking towards the theatre and the little girls are dressed in their Easter dresses. You just know it's such a special event in their life and I love that I'm part of that.

For those who have never seen the stage production of Mary Poppins before, can you discuss some of the similarities to the movie, things they might recognize, as well as some differences, or elements that are brand new to this show?

Well they'll recognize the famous songs ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,' ‘Step in Time,' and gosh their favorite songs and their favorite characters. In addition, of course, this completely British team who created the show added from the novels so there's even more.

You play two different roles in the show. Can you tell me a little about each character?

I play the Bird Woman and she's known for singing ‘Feed the Birds,' which is, again, many people tell me it's one of their favorite songs. And, it's wonderful to sing a song people so love and say that it's their favorite. I love that. In act two, I do a character from the novel, Miss Andrew. She was Mr. Banks' nanny who is referenced from the first act, and she's a battle-ax. I have a fabulous costume and so I really enjoy her.

Why do they decide to bring Miss Andrew in to replace Mary?

Because Mary takes an unannounced vacation, and also because throughout the first act, Mr. Banks makes reference to her. It's Mrs. Banks that says if we get that woman in here maybe it'll help things out and it doesn't work out that way.

What has it been like for you to play both the Bird Woman who should be familiar to those who have seen the movie and Miss Andrew who you may be introducing to audiences for the first time?

I love playing a character that everyone loves. When I come on the stage as the Bird Woman, they're all very happy to see me. And then the thrill of introducing a new character [Miss Andrew]... she's so tasty. The villains are always the best, so it's good on both accounts. I have a great job.

How do you prepare for or handle switching between playing two very different characters in one performance?

It helps in that the costuming is so dramatically different, and also vocally it's at the two ends of my rage. The Bird Woman is relaxed and easy and wise. Miss Andrew is high-strung and intense and energetic, so it's not hard. When I see how different I look in costume it's almost hard to believe that's me.

Do you favor one character that you play over the other, and do you have any similarities to either character?

I don't. I don't favor one over the other. And, I think there's a little of both in me, too. I have a little Miss Andrew in me. That's probably why I'm so comfortable playing the role. I get to explore the ranges in personality.

I'm curious if you ever have the chance to speak with audience members before or after performances. What kind of reactions do you receive from them about playing this sort of "anti-Poppins"?

Sometimes after, usually not before. It's funny when I speak to children, especially young children. They're a little confused. They don't know I'm not still that person they saw on stage. They still have that ability to suspend imagination beyond the stage.

What is your favorite song or moment in the show, and why?

Actually it's the kite ballet. It's in act two after Miss Andrew has been introduced. There's a scene in the park and four young couples come out and with kites dance. It's absolutely exquisite. I love watching it from the wings each night. There's no lyrics, but its very special I watch it every night. The choreography is beautiful and fantastic. It's very special. So much going on with dancing on Broadway right now is so athletic and seeming routed in gymnastics. This is classically routed in ballet and tap, and I'm crazy about it. It's one of our real strengths.

Can you spell ‘supercalifragilisticexpialidocious'?

I'm still learning. I'll just leave it at that I can get about halfway through it. I'm one of the few associated [with the show] who remembers seeing the movie in the theater. I saw it in the move theater. I remember getting off of the bus and someone saying to me "I know a new word! It's ‘supercalifragilisticexpialidocious'!" She was one of first ones to have seen the movie. It's been in my world for a long time. I'm delighted to see families, particular young families, come to the theatre, and I know that in a very real way their life is changed. They will go to the theatre again and again and that's a responsibility I love having.

Experience the magic of Disney's MARY POPPINS at the Mahalia Jackson Theater in New Orleans from December 18th through the 23rd. For tickets and more information call the box office at (504) 287-0351.

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From This Author Heidi Scheuermann