ALT hopes 'Mary Poppins' will send its season soaring
By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
Amarillo Little Theatre is hoping a "practically perfect" nanny will be just the spoonful of sugar its bottom line needs.
The theater opens its highly anticipated staging of Mary Poppins on Thursday for a three-weekend run in the Mainstage, 2019 Civic Circle. Sales are already high — exactly what ALT leaders hoped for.
"We were so down (in sales) last year and thought this has such a broad appeal that we should do it," said Allen Shankles, ALT's managing and artistic director. "As it goes right now, ticket sales are really brisk, so we hope we sustain that until we sell them all."
ALT's 90th season was a disappointment financially, Shankles said in the final episode of The Season: ALT, leading him and his board of directors to stack this season with broadly appealing shows like Mary Poppins, Sister Act and others.
But this Mary Poppins isn't exactly the sticky-sweet version fans know from the 1964 Disney film starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. West End producer Cameron Mackintosh originally acquired the rights to adapt P.L. Travers' books into a stage production from the prickly author herself, but only on the condition that the creators were English and that no one who made the Disney film would be involved. After her death in 1996, Mackintosh made a deal with Disney to use songs from the film, but a new book was written by Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, with additional songs by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe supplementing those by the Sherman Brothers in the film.
As a result, this Mary is a bit darker.
"It's not just sweet and molasses all the time," Shankles said. "You're going to see the Mary Poppins you grew up with and loved, but it's not going to be exactly the same as the movie."
"I really love the differences," said Kristen Loyd, last seen as the sparkly showgirl star of Anything Goes, now starring as the stern but loving nanny.
"I've read all of (the Travers) books, and I love that this is more true to them," Loyd said. "It's a beautiful mix of what she was (in the books) and what Disney thought her to be."
Loyd speaks from experience: She starred in Mary Poppins in 2014 in Midland. This time around, Loyd thinks she'll be stronger in the role.
"I'm more mature in my life as a mother. The way I connect to the role in its nurturing sense is stronger," Loyd said.
Shankles said he had minor concerns in casting Loyd in the role because of her prior experience.
"Obviously, she knows the demands of the role, and she already had a head start on the lines and the music," Shankles said. "But I had a conversation with her right off the bat, that there's obviously a fine line to walk. I didn't want to hear every day that Midland did it this way, but likewise, I didn't want to ignore the fact that she had been in a production before and if ... there was something else for us to consider, I wanted her to speak up.
"Kristen is the furthest thing from a diva," he continued. "She's been perfect."
"She has been amazing," said Jason Crespin, the ALT Academy director who's starring as Bert, Mary's chimney-sweep chum.
"She's weeks and weeks ahead of us, so because of that, her character is so polished," Crespin continued. "She knows what she's doing at any moment of the show, absolutely."
Loyd herself is full of praise for her co-stars, who include Brandon Bellar and Bethany Fields as George and Winifred Banks, Taylor Henderson and Noah Hartman as young Jane and Michael Banks, and Jenny Morgan, Christy Corder, Shannon Mashburn, Dennis Humprhey, Jeri Tidmore, among others, in the ensemble.
"This cast is so strong," Loyd said. "I am amazed by their dancing skills, amazed by the vocal sound and in awe of these young children I'm working with. It's a special, special show. Magical."
Mary Poppins will open at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, then continue at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and Sept. 29 and 30 and Oct. 6 and 7; 7:30 p.m. Sept. 28 and Oct. 5; and 2:30 p.m. Oct. 1 and 8.
Tickets are $22 for adults, $19 for students and seniors, and $16 for children Thursdays and Sundays; and $25 for adults, $22 for students and seniors, and $18 for children Fridays and Saturdays.