Saturday, November 14, 2009

Reverend's Interview: Poppins Fresh Men

Walt Disney’s cinematic masterpiece Mary Poppins has enthralled viewers since its original release in 1964. Based on a series of books by P.L. Travers about a “practically perfect” nanny with seemingly supernatural powers, the movie was a box-office hit and won a number of Oscars, including Best Actress for its first-time film star, Julie Andrews.

45 years later, Mary Poppins has become a smash on stage, thanks to wunderkind theatre producer Cameron Mackintosh (Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera). The current national tour makes its eagerly awaited southern California premiere November 15 at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles.

Movie Dearest was able to speak recently with not one but two gay, out cast members of the Mary Poppins ensemble. Troy Edward Bowles (who goes by “Eddy”) and Tom Souhrada were eager to discuss their backgrounds from the tour’s stop in Dallas following a six-month run in Chicago.

“This is the perfect show for me,” said the 34-year old Bowles. He joined the touring company after roles in the Broadway productions Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Pirate Queen, as well as the national tour of the Billy Joel-Twyla Tharp mash-up Movin’ Out.

“I grew up on a dairy farm in Idaho and just danced around all the time,” Bowles recounted. “It seemed inevitable that I would one day dance professionally. There weren’t many outlets for dance, though, so I got into gymnastics, which had a little dance.”

Bowles, who is, by his own admission, an “out and proud” gay man performing in traditionally family-friendly Disney fare, went to New York City following his high-school graduation. However, the former farm boy found Manhattan “overwhelming.” After a few weeks there, “I ended up going to the University of Utah, which was closest to my parents’ home,” Bowles said.

Mary Poppins is, according to the former gymnast turned dancer, “a highly choreographed show, and there’s so much character to the choreography.” The dances were staged by the acclaimed Matthew Bourne (best known for his all-male Swan Lake and the ballet version of Edward Scissorhands) with an assist from co-choreographer Stephen Mear.

Bowles, who also serves as the tour’s dance captain, singled out two numbers in the show as being particularly challenging. During the famous song “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”, the ensemble “spells out all the letters!” Also, “Step in Time”, Bowles says, “is a huge tap number and exhausting.”

This holiday season promises to be a high-profile one for Bowles. In addition to the LA engagement of Mary Poppins, he can be seen on the big screen — sort of — in Disney’s new, motion-capture digital version of A Christmas Carol. “I’m one of 14 dancers who play 100 characters in the big dance scene,” Bowles reports. “I was also Bob Hoskins’ (who plays Fezziwig) dance and stunt double.” All in all, the dancer reports, “It was an incredible experience.”

Bowles’ fellow ensemble member, Tom Souhrada, fell in love with the Mary Poppins movie at an early age. “It was such a big part of my youth,” Souhrada recalled. “It was actually the first movie I ever saw.”

Souhrada, who grew up in south Florida and is in his early 40’s, went on to say, “My sisters and I used to do little shows in our backyard, and Mary Poppins was one of them. When I heard they were doing a stage production, I got very excited.”

However, Souhrada’s eventual casting in the show proved unexpected. “Last fall, I did a show with an actress who had been cast in the Mary Poppins tour,” he said. “She called me one day to let me know the actor playing the Park Keeper had pulled out and told me to call my agent. I did, got an audition and got cast!”

Souhrada, who is single and lives in New York City, shared another special connection he has with Mary Poppins. Earlier in his career, he starred in a production of the 1920’s-set musical spoof The Boy Friend directed by its original star … Julie Andrews!

“After the show’s initial read-through, I was walking down the hall when I heard a proper, British, female voice behind me calling my name,” Souhrada said excitedly. “I turned around and all I could think was ‘Julie Andrews knows my name!’ Then it was ‘Julie Andrews is talking to me!’ She gave me a hug and all I could think was ‘Julie Andrews is touching me!’ She gave me a kiss on the cheek and I thought ‘Julie Andrews is kissing me’!”

About the current tour of Mary Poppins, Souhrada revealed, “It’s been an amazing experience, phenomenal. The creative staff has been amazing.” Regarding his fellow ensemble members, he said, “Most of the dancers are half my age, so I’m just trying to keep up!”

Both Souhrada and Bowles are excited about their show’s impending LA run. Bowles said, “I loved Mary Poppins on Broadway; I cried.” He continued, “There’s something about the tour that is more intimate; the set has been re-imagined for the tour, since it was so huge on Broadway.”

Mary Poppins is currently scheduled to play LA through February 7. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit the official website of the Center Theatre Group.

Interview by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.

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