Mary Poppins

Mary and children NewtonIt’s a Jolly Holiday once again, as Newton Community Theatre mounts their production of Mary Poppins. Beginning Friday March 8 and running for two weekends, this family favorite brings together all the classic characters from the beloved Disney movie, plus a few more from the original P.L. Travers books, all to delight audiences with merry tunes and sparkling dance.

Sweeping Opportunities

One of those who gets to bring this story to life is local favorite actor Michael Howland. Active with many area theatre groups, he is playing the part of Bert in Newton’s Mary Poppins, similar to a journey he’s traveled before. And he’s done LOTS of traveling for local theatre….
Howland updated“This is the first show I’ve done more than once. I was the Park Keeper and Northbrook at the Des Moines Playhouse version four years ago. I am just as proud of the cast involved in Newton’s version as I was of my first experience at the Playhouse! They’ve build a monstrous house for the Banks family. Incredible! Smaller town, but no less heart! The cast and crew have worked so hard to bring this BIG show to life. I am thankful they have included me in this show, in what was certainly a dream role.”
It’s not the first ‘dream role’ Howland has had the opportunity to play in the last few years. The plethora of theatre going on in Des Moines and the surrounding area has given him many chances to explore all sorts of roles. “I have followed the local theaters and their audition schedules for years. What people might not know about me is that I gave up theater and acting overall for 20 years, assuming that my job would not be able to support a theater acting schedule. I finally took a chance and put myself out there again for the Playhouse performance of Annie. (My first show there… I’ve done 10 total shows there so far.)”
Michael Howland Beast“Time is precious and fleeting, and I have really seized the day to pursue some dream roles while I still can. These smaller local theaters have a wonderful intimate atmosphere and have really welcomed me. Knoxville gave me a chance to be the Baker in Into the Woods, Indianola gave me a chance to be The Beast in Beauty and the Beast, and Pella gave me the chance to be Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors and Prince Eric in The Little Mermaid. And now, Newton has given me the beautiful gift of Bert in Mary Poppins!”
“I’ve made up for lost time, so it’s worth the commute! I have a 45-60 minute commute depending on the theater. (It’s even worth totaling my car! Beware of deer!) I do need to be extra cautious as the shows I’ve been involved in are often in the fall, and the deer seem to be extra active this time of year. I hit a raccoon during Little Shop and a deer during Mermaid… it’s a long dark highway and the deer were evidently sleeping in the median.”

Sweeping Movement

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.
Poppins group“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.”

Sweeping Dance

The movie version of Mary Poppins is full of large dance numbers, and the stage version even more so. And by his own admission, Howland is not really a dancer (at least not the acrobatic kind often found in such a part!) The unique thing about Newton’s version of Mary Poppins is there are various people in charge of the dance numbers, and not just one formal choreographer.
Poppins cast“Cast mates all took turns learning and creating choreography for each of the major songs. I helped with Jolly Holiday and Supercali, believe it or not. I am not a dancer. I don’t audition well when it comes to dancing. But I am committed, and if a director can put their trust in me, what I do is work hard and I ‘arrive.’ I learn by doing, and connecting the steps concept by concept. You learn to adapt. (Bring back the Beast and Prince Eric ballroom dancing!!! I could do that all day!)”
Howland is ready to share the love and joy he found in those childhood memories of watching Disney’s Mary Poppins movie so many years ago, and making it come alive once again onstage. “What remains the same are the classic characters you know and love, and a powerful story of a father who learns the value of his family. The children are also getting a classic attitude adjustment thanks to the magic of Mary Poppins. It is, at its heart, a powerful story about the value of family.”
Take your family and go see Howland and the rest of the Newton cast in Mary Poppins. Performances run from March 8 through 16, and tickets are available by calling the Newton Community Theatre box office at 641-792-1230 or by purchasing at the door. The show is presented in the auditorium at the Newton YMCA building, 1701 S 8th Ave E.”

Newton Community Theatre Michael Howland Mary Poppins