To the excited applause of many children, and just as many children-at-heart, Mary Poppins opened last Friday at the Paramount Theatre.
“For those of us who grew up with the movie, it takes you back. And it also introduces the story to a whole new generation. My little girl was just two years old when she first saw the musical and she was mesmerized throughout the whole performance,” said Jimmie Lee Smith, the stage manager for the current tour.
Smith is in charge of “maintaining the technical and artistic integrity of the show” so that Mary’s magic and Bert’s jack-of-all-trades shenanigans go without a hitch in every city. With a large show like this, with many special effects including a fair amount of flying and the giant Banks’ house which opens and closes like a classy dollhouse, keeping a large cast and crew stepping in time is a fulltime job.
“Even on the road, we are setting up rehearsals. Every four to six weeks, we have a full run through with the cast. I also set up rehearsals for the understudies and any new cast members joining us,” Smith explained.
As stage manager, Smith is responsible for the backstage maneuvers, which can change drastically from city to city. “What happens in front of the curtain is set, but where the cast goes once they exit the stage can be quite different depending on where we are. Maybe it is straight off to a large dressing room for their next costume change or maybe they have to run up a flight of stairs to a curtained off area.”
Smith works out these traffic patterns so everyone can make all those costume and set changes without incident. In the course of managing several national tours, he has seen all types of theaters. “Many of the places we play are old vaudeville houses. Luckily, in the past ten or fifteen years, big shows like Phantom of the Opera have caused most of them to undergo huge renovations [to the technical capabilities of the house]. But many don’t have much rehearsal space,” said Smith. While Mary Poppins is in town, he’ll be booking rooms at the Seattle Center or other nearby theaters to hold rehearsals.
Although he studied aeronautical engineering in college, Smith began in theater as a “fly man” and has since made a career out of traveling with Broadway show tours like Mary Poppins.
“I never expected to have this type of career and it has exceeded everything that I dreamed of. I’ve gotten to see so much of the United States and Canada with these tours,” he said.
For the next three weeks, Seattle will be his home. Mary Poppins plays every day, and twice a day on weekends. And Smith knows his talented cast and crew are properly prepped for the Paramount’s stage.
“Once we get to the downbeat of that first bar of music, it’s all second nature to us, and we go sailing into it,” he said.
In short, as Mary herself might say, expect all the effects, songs, dances, and all the rest to be practically perfect in every way.
Mary Poppins is currently playing at the Paramount Theatre, 911 Pine Street.