Lydia Jenkin is an entertainment feature writer for the New Zealand Herald.

New Yorker set to be high flyer in classic musical

Rachel Wallace has been ticking all the boxes and getting rave reviews as the world's most famous nanny.

Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke in the original smash hit. Photo /
Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke in the original smash hit. Photo /

To play Mary Poppins in the hit stage musical, there are certain requirements.

Among them, one must be able to fly above the audience while piloting an umbrella; One must sing the tongue-twisting, ever-accelerating Supercalifragilisticexpealidocious while dancing madly; And one must do it all in a sweet and well-enunciated English accent.

New Yorker Rachel Wallace has been winning rave reviews since taking on the role of the world's most famous nanny in US productions of the Disney-backed show early last year. Now she's headed to Auckland for the show's season at the Civic which starts this weekend.

Q: Was Mary Poppins a childhood favourite of yours?
My Mum always had Julie Andrews on in the house, and The Sound of Music was my absolute favourite, but Mary Poppins was a very close second.

And I had it on repeat for many years, so it's been in my mind for a long time.

When I moved to New York right after graduating from college, I would walk past the theatre on 42nd Street all the time and longingly look up at the sign, and the fact that I'm actually doing it is still a little surreal.

Q: Why do you think Mary Poppins has been such a success for you?

I guess I've always thought that maybe I should've been born in the 50s or something, because the way she does things and the way she speaks, when I got cast my friends all said, 'oh my gosh this is the perfect role for you!' And I love kids - babysitting was my side job in New York, and kids bring out one of my favourite parts of me.

Q: What is your favourite song in the show?

It actually changes for me, depending on the day, or the people I'm on stage with.

I love Spoonful of Sugar, but I also really love some of the new songs that have been added - Anything Can Happen, I love doing that because everyone you've met so far in the play is on stage at once!

Q: Supercalifragilisticexpealidocious is a fast number. Ever stuffed it up?

I don't think I have on stage. When I was first learning it, I was certainly convinced I was never going to get it all right, it seemed like an impossible thing for my body to do.

And I called my Mum and she said, 'how many hours do you have before you have to perform it, and how much can you accomplish in that time?'

So you just go back and keep practising, over and over, and now it's pretty much in my bones, so that's a relief.

Q: What about flying through the air at the end of the show? Is it fun or terrifying?

Oh it's amazing. Fun doesn't quite feel like the right word. To be able to fly out over the audience and look at them and thank them for being there, that's a real privilege.

Q: What is it about the Mary Poppins story that still connects with both kids and adults?

I think everybody is used to consuming their entertainment through a screen, and that makes this quite thrilling.

Often the things that impress people in movies are done by a computer, and to see people singing and performing for real, it's nice to be reminded that people can accomplish a whole lot without a computer too.

But it's also a very relevant story - it's about a father losing his job, and the family struggling to connect with each other, and how they get better at that, and how they learn to appreciate each other and find happiness again.

I think that will always be relevant.

Theatre preview

Who: Rachel Wallace

What: Mary Poppins

Where and when: Civic Theatre, Auckland, opens on Saturday, October 13

- NZ Herald

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