Right now, the long dark highway leads to Newton and the part of Bert in Mary Poppins. Memorably portrayed by Dick Van Dyke in the Disney movie, it’s a challenging part with singing, dancing, and a cockney accent on top of everything else. Howland is well aware of those challenges, but he’s also proud to take on such an iconic part.
“I think you can’t help but pay tribute to Dick Van Dyke. When I saw him in [the recent movie] Mary Poppins Returns, my heart was so full. I was raised with the generation that made watching Mary Poppins a special once-a-year family event. It was a big deal to catch this movie on TV! When I looked at approaching a character like Bert, I wanted my body to be animated and my face as well. Watching Dick Van Dyke’s Bert, his every move and grimace was full of personality.”
“For me, I wasn’t worried about comparisons or making the characters my own. Rather, my hope was that I could bring a Bert to the stage that clearly is all about community. In the stage version, Bert narrates much of the show, and he is very connected to all the townspeople. He knows the ins and outs of the people and their own idiosyncrasies.”
“He also knows Mary. I can’t help but believe that Bert was once a kid that Mary also came and invested in. He knows all about her magic and what she is capable of. He’s seen her help many families through the years, and though they are friends, there is definitely a spark there for Bert.”