An occasional look at family-friendly theater around Washington. (Shows are appropriate for age 5 and older unless noted.)
To sniff or not to sniff: That was the question faced by singer and actress Patricia Hurley while rehearsing the title role in Mary Poppins at Olney Theatre Center. The company is reviving the London- and Broadway-bred musical, based on the 1964 Disney film and the books of P.L. Travers. In the books, the magical nanny sniffs her disapproval when her charges, Jane and Michael Banks, don’t measure up.
During a rehearsal break last month, Hurley said, “I was trying to figure out how I could incorporate the little” — she demonstrated the sniff. But, she added with a big laugh, “I realized that will just sound like I’m snorting onstage.”
The mother of two young girls, Hurley has done many shows at Olney (she played Wendy in the 2008 “Peter Pan”) but only recently returned to work after taking several years off to start her family. Hurley says her daughters are excited about Mom’s latest role.
“They’re like, ‘You’re Mary Poppins!’ . . . And they’re singing the songs around the house. . . . I always joke that Mary Poppins was the first positive parenting role model, and I’m trying to implement positive parenting and spoonfuls of sugar,” she says, confessing, “I have used some of the lines from the show on my children.”
Jason King Jones, Olney’s associate artistic director, is promising plenty of magical elements — puppetry, flying and more — but also sees much realism behind the magic and between the lines. In the Olney space, which is far smaller than a Broadway house, “we’re able to be more intimate,” he said. “We certainly are able to dig into the heart of the story — the heart of the relationship between George and Winifred and their children and the disconnect that the family’s having because they’ve stopped listening to each other.”
It takes Mary Poppins and her magic to help them. “She is of this other world,” Hurley said. “She’s reteaching [them], through these magical experiences, how to appreciate each other.”
“Mary Poppins.” Through Jan. 1 at Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Rd., Olney, Md. 301-924-3400. olneytheatre.org. $43-$90.
‘The Secret Garden’ at
Shakespeare Theatre Company
“I’m going to die,” says Colin, the little boy who was sobbing in his room until Mary Lennox burst in. Mary, a prickly girl, responds, “I’ve seen lots of dead people, and you don’t look like any of them.” They’re long-lost cousins, and they have some healing to do.
Late last month in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s rehearsal studio, young actors Henry Baratz of Chevy Chase and Anya Rothman of Charlottesville rehearsed that scene from the 1991 Broadway musical The Secret Garden, based on the beloved 1911 book by Frances Hodgson Burnett (an Englishwoman who lived in Washington on and off for years).
Mary Lennox is a British girl from colonial India who loses her parents in a cholera epidemic and comes to live with her reclusive, widowed uncle and his sickly son in a Yorkshire manor. Both Mary and her uncle (played by Michael Xavier) are grieving for loved ones whose spirits literally haunt the show. It’s only when Mary reopens her late Aunt Lily’s symbolic walled garden that she, her uncle and the ailing Colin can be happy.
Fans of the original musical, said director David Armstrong, “won’t really be aware that things have changed, but they’ve changed substantially.” His 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle is producing the revival with the Shakespeare Theatre in collaboration with the musical’s original creators, composer Lucy Simon and bookwriter/lyricist Marsha Norman. They have worked regularly over the past year, tinkering with the script and songs.
Anya, 11, and Henry, 13, seem to have a keen grasp of their characters’ emotional issues and haven’t shied from the repetitive work in rehearsals.
“Doing a lot of the same work is hard,” Henry said, “but you have to realize that each time is not repeating what you did last time, but it’s just making it better and improving every time and finding out more about your character.”
Anya feels the same. “I think that it’s not bad to have to do it over and over again. Time flies for me, most of the time, when I’m practicing, because if you didn’t do it over and over again, you wouldn’t be able to explore the ways of thinking. . . . I think it’s fun to be able to explore this person that’s not you but kind of becomes you, I guess, or you become” them.
“The Secret Garden.” Tuesday through Dec. 31 at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F St. NW. 202-547-1122. shakespearetheatre.org. $44-$118. (Check website for special events during “Secret Garden” Family Week, Dec. 11-18.)
‘A Christmas Carol’
at Ford’s Theatre
When actor Craig Wallace grumps and grumbles onto the stage as Ebenezer Scrooge on opening night of A Christmas Carol at Ford’s Theatre, he’ll be stepping into an iconic role as well as the estimable shoes of actor Edward Gero, who played the part since 2009. And that’s all fine with Wallace.
Gero made a big splash last year at Arena Stage playing U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in “The Originalist.” In January, he’s reprising the role in Sarasota, Fla., with Arena Stage’s Molly Smith directing again, and he needs the time to prepare. Enter Mr. Wallace.
A classically trained veteran of the Shakespeare Theatre, Wallace has starred on many Washington stages — most recently as Louis Armstrong in “Satchmo at the Waldorf” for Mosaic Theatre Company — and he’s taken on numerous key roles in shows at Ford’s — last year’s “The Guard” and 2014’s “Driving Miss Daisy,” among many.
“For years, Ed’s been the iconic Scrooge,” Wallace said. “I’m really just being plugged in. But the wonderful thing is that we’re two different actors, so it’ll be a different thing.”
Wallace was a senior at Howard University in the late 1980s when he met Gero at the old Shakespeare Theatre at the Folger. “He saw me way back when I didn’t know what I was doing. And he said, ‘Come listen to me and I’ll pull you up.’ I love him for that . . . so the fact that I’m going to do this thing while he’s away is a triumph. All I have to do is live up.”
When kids see Wallace, an actor of color, playing an Olde English curmudgeon like Scrooge, he knows they’ll understand intuitively that actors can be anyone or anything onstage.
“The cast is diverse, so you’ll see white young Scrooges. I’m Scrooge, but when we go to the flashbacks, the young Scrooges won’t be people of color. . . . I think Scrooge is Scrooge.”
And what will the littlest theatergoers take away from a show full of angst and redemption amid fast-moving action? That’s simple, Wallace said. “For the youngest of people, I think seeing a mean old man become a beautiful, smiling man is joyous.”
“A Christmas Carol.” Thursday through Dec. 31 at Ford’s Theatre, 511 10th St. NW. 202-347-4833. fords.org. $22-$105.
Arena Stage’s revival of the classic Rodgers & Hammerstein show Carousel, directed by Molly Smith, mixes darker themes and a touch of magic into a tale of love between a nice girl and a sketchy carnival barker. Through Dec. 24 at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St. SW. 202-488-3300. arenastage.org. $50-$109. Recommended for age 11 and older.
“Be our guest,” says Imagination Stage in Bethesda, for its staging of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, based on the 1991 animated musical and 1994 Broadway show. Nov. 19-Jan. 15 at Imagination Stage, 4908 Auburn Ave., Bethesda. 301-280-1660. imaginationstage.org. $12-$30.
Two actors will play all the characters in an hour-long retelling of C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, with magic and puppetry, and directed by Washington actor Tom Story. Dec. 2-31 at Adventure Theatre MTC, 7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo. 301-634-2270. adventure theatre-mtc.org. $19.50.
An orphaned girl living with an eccentric aunt spends her first Christmas without her parents in A Christmas Carol Memory, a new play by Laura Connors Hull inspired and based on the Dickens story and produced by Creative Cauldron. Dec. 1-20 at ArtSpace Falls Church, 410 South Maple Ave., Falls Church. 703-436-9948. creativecauldron.org. $15-$30.
At the Kennedy Center, Into the Woods, Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s deconstruction of fairy tales is performed by New York’s Fiasco Theater. Dec. 6-Jan. 8. $45-$175. Recommended for age 8 and older. Also look for Wicked, the Stephen Schwartz megahit. Dec. 14-Jan. 8. $99-$349. Recommended for age 8 and older. 202-467-4600. kennedy-center.org.
Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical is based on the 1966 animated television special and the 2006 stage adaptation. Dec. 13-31 at the National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. 800-514-3849. the nationaldc.com. $48-$203.