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Tune Thursday: Caroline Sheen is fine with flying. But onstage illusions make her nervous

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Tune Thursday: Caroline Sheen is fine with flying. But onstage illusions make her nervous

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SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t seen the Broadway production of Disney & Cameron Mackintosh’s “Mary Poppins” (or – for that matter – one of the touring productions of this acclaimed stage musical), now might be a very good time to bail out of today’s JHM story.

Still here? Okay, then I’m going to assume that – at some point in your life – you’ve seen this stage show.

Sooo … Do you remember how Mary Poppins flies off – leaving the Banks household behind – at the end of Act One, only to then return clinging to a kite towards the beginning of Act Two? Well, Caroline Sheen’s association with this show is a lot like that.

“I thought that I was done with ‘Poppins’,” she admitted. “I had played the role in the UK touring company and had enjoyed this part tremendously. But then – last summer – Disney called and asked if I’d be interested in doing the US tour. And I’ve been over the moon ever since.”

Caroline Sheen as Mary Poppins in Disney's Mary Poppins touring musical
Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

Sheen officially joined the US national tour last month, when she replaced this show’s original star, Ashley Brown. When Caroline and I spoke earlier this month, the tour had just arrived in Colorado and had begun presenting performances in the Buell Theatre at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.

“I love this theater. It’s just like the Hippodrome in Birmingham. You’re so close to the audience that even a knowing glance can get this huge reaction from the crowd,” she said.

But there’s more to playing Mary Poppins than just knowing glances and flying out over the audience. When I asked what the toughest part of this show was, Caroline immediately volunteered that it was “Practically Perfect” from Act One.

“That number is honestly the hardest thing to do in the show. You have to sing, dance, do magic,” Sheen said. “Once I’ve gotten past that number, I feel like I can finally relax and enjoy the rest of the show.”

Caroline Sheen as Mary Poppins with Bert and the Banks children in the touring company of Mary Poppins the Musical
Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

And if it’s any consolation, Caroline isn’t the only Poppins who finds “Practically Perfect” pretty difficult to do.

“Gary – the gentleman who does my wigs for this show – has worked with all the Marys. The Broadway ones as well as the ones who’ve done the tours. And each of them supposedly told him about how happy they were once they got past ‘Practically Perfect’ in the show. How they no longer have to worry about some illusion not working the way it should on stage,” Sheen laughed.

So malfunctioning bits of stage craft concern Caroline. But not flying out over the audience while hanging from a wire?

“Nope. That stuff’s a cinch. Besides, this isn’t the first time that I’ve flown in a Sherman Bros. musical,” she explained. “I played Truly Scrumptious in the West End version of ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.’ Which means that I flew out over an audience while seated in a car. Of course, given that I always had to wear a seat belt, I guess that was a whole lot safer. But still, I’ve flown before.”

Caroline Sheen
Copyright SimG Records

Getting back to that “Practically Perfect” number in the show … Sheen once appeared in “A Spoonful of Stiles and Drewe.” Which was this one-night-only celebration of the 25th anniversary of the songwriting partnership of George Stiles and Anthony Drewe (i.e. these are the folks who wrote all of the new shows for the stage version of “Mary Poppins”).

“And during ‘A Spoonful of Stiles and Drewe,’ I performed a special version of ‘Practically Perfect.’ Only this time around, I wasn’t the only Mary on stage,” Caroline explained. “I was up there with Scarlett Strallen and Lisa O’Hare, who have also played this part. So we were all there on stage with our little brollies. And we were now basically the dueling Poppins. Seeing who could be the most ‘Practically Perfect’ of them all. It was great fun to perform that version of this number.”

And speaking of performing … When she’s not nonchalantly hovering about the orchestra section and worrying about whether an onstage illusion in Jane & Micheal’s nursery might not work, Sheen is a huge supporter of musical theater. Especially new works by lyricists & composers that are still struggling to make a name for themselves in this field.

Which is why Sheen and her husband, Michael Jibson recently partnered with SimG Records to create “Raise the Curtain.” Which is this brand-new recording that celebrates contemporary musical theatre writers from Britain and the US which features 5 previously unrecorded songs.

Caroline Sheen's "Raise the Curtain" album cover
Copyright SimG Records

“It was great fun selecting all of the songs for this CD and then recording them,” Caroline enthused. “Michael and I especially enjoyed performing ‘Nothing is Too Wonderful to Be True.’ We wanted to record something together – you know, for our mums – but we wanted to do something silly rather than soppy. And this number from ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ seemed to be the perfect choice.”

So these days, Sheen spends her daylight hours talking up “Raise the Curtain” and her nights marveling at Gavin Lee’s performance as Bert (“I first saw ‘Mary Poppins’ when it was being tried out in Bristol. And even then, I was amazed at Gavin’s energy level when he played Bert. Well, it’s six years later now, and he’s still playing Bert at that same high energy level. I don’t know how he does it.”). Though – sometime soon – Sheen hopes to find a free moment to slip away to one of Denver’s IMAX theatres. Where she then has plans to catching a screening of Walt Disney Pictures’ “Alice in Wonderland.”

“My cousin, Michael (Sheen) is the voice of the White Rabbit in that movie. And I’m dying to see how he did with that part,” Caroline concluded.

Well, if you’d like to see how Caroline Sheen is doing with her latest part, “Mary Poppins” is continuing at the Buell Theater in the Denver Center for the Performing Arts now through April 4th. After that, the North American tour moves on to Cincinnati where it will present performances at the Aronoff Center for the Arts from April 8th through April 25th.

For further information on “Mary Poppins” (i.e. the Broadway show as well as the touring versions of this acclaimed stage musical), please click on this link.

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