By Kevin Coughlin
Mary Poppins opens at Morristown’s Mayo Performing Arts Center on Friday, June 3, 2016. But its stars, Sandy Taylor and Justin Anthony Long, are only just getting the hang of the show.
As in, hanging from the rafters for their flying sequences.
For Taylor, it’s the fulfillment of a dream that was launched way back in the third grade, when she played Peter Pan.
“I didn’t get to fly,” recounted the Roxbury native.
Mary Poppins will make up for that; Taylor will be airborne four times during the musical. That’s 16 times, when you add two shows on Saturday, June 4, and a matinee on Sunday, June 5.
Her first flying lesson was last week. Dangling from hip-mounted cables was exciting, she said, even though it felt strange singing without a leg to stand on.
“You sing from your legs,” explained Taylor, 30, a Montclair State University graduate who sings in a jazz trio and directs an a cappella group, The Yuletide Carolers.
It also takes getting used to “the knowledge that you’re in the hands of another human.”
Two humans, actually. One crew member hoists her aloft; another leads her to and fro.
“They puppeteer you. You’re like a marionette,” said Long, who also makes his aerial debut in Mary Poppins, as Bert.
(The Montclair State alum has had other lofty roles, however. Long starred in MPAC’s 2013 production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and had a featured part in Martin Scorsese’s Oscar nominated The Wolf of Wall Street. He also wrote, directed and starred in the musical web-series City of Dreams.)
Long flies only once in Poppins–but he gets to do flips.
“You Superman out,” the 31-year-old actor said after his first lesson, hurling his arms forward like the Man of Steel, “and kick your heels to the back of your head to pitch forward. I’m an expert now. I did it for a whole day, for a whole hour!”
Not to worry. These two are in good hands.
Flying by Foy, the company that trained the aerials crew, has safely elevated everyone from Julie Andrews to Renee Zellweger since its start in 1957.
(The fascinating list includes former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Taylor Swift, Howard Stern and Sharon Tate.)
Foy sent Olympic Gold Medalist Nadia Comăneci hundreds of feet above Times Square for the 2004 Olympic torch relay, and even helped NASA simulate weightlessness for astronauts in the Gemini and Apollo programs, according to the company’s website.
Flying is one thing. But for Taylor, a greater challenge will be scaling the theatrical heights achieved by Julie Andrews, who became synonymous with the prim and proper nanny in the 1964 Walt Disney film.
“I’ve always admired Julie Andrews, and I will enjoy paying homage to her,” said Taylor, who teaches teen actors at MPAC. To make the Mary Poppins character her own, she read the children’s book series by the late P.L. Travers.
Travers, a native of Australia, intensely disliked the Disney version.
According to Taylor, “the reason she wrote the books was her relationship with her father,” an alcoholic who died young from tuberculosis.
Taylor hopes to inform her portrayal with an understanding that “Mary Poppins did what she did to heal her own childhood wounds.”
The production will incorporate aspects of the books while featuring many songs from the movie, and others added for more recent stage productions in London and New York.
“It won’t bother the traditionalists,” Taylor said of the story line. “But for me, it’s important to understand the reasons for the tough love” exhibited by Mary Poppins.
Shows at 7:30 pm on Friday, June 3, and Saturday, June 4,
and 2 pm, Saturday, June 4, and Sunday, June 5.
Tickets: $20, $25. At 100 South St. Call 973-539-8008.