Musical Magnate Anthony Lyn tackles ‘Mary Poppins’

Caroline Sheen as Mary Poppins, Katie Balen as Jane Banks, Bryce Baldwin as Michael Banks, Gavin Lee as Bert, and the Original National Tour Company of "Mary Poppins" perform “Step In Time.” ©Disney/CML.
Joan Marcus
Caroline Sheen as Mary Poppins, Katie Balen as Jane Banks, Bryce Baldwin as Michael Banks, Gavin Lee as Bert, and the Original National Tour Company of "Mary Poppins" perform “Step In Time.” ©Disney/CML.

It’s fair to say that “Mary Poppins” (the Sir Cameron Mackintosh/Disney-produced hit musical now ensconced at the Kennedy Center’s Opera House) has pretty much engulfed Anthony Lyn’s life.

Lyn is the tour director of the popular musical version of the old Disney movie musical which won Julie Andrews an Oscar as the super-cali— well, you know — nanny, and is the current director of the long-running (four years) Broadway production. For Lyn, it’s Mary here and Mary there pretty much all the time.

So what else is there?

“Well, I did just get married recently,” Lyn offered in a telephone interview. “There’s that.”

After congratulating Lyn, we wanted to know just what a tour director does. In the past, we knew that a stage director has a big part in the casting, runs rehearsals and then sits in the back of the theater biting his or her nails on opening night.

That doesn’t apply to Lyn or any tour director of major Broadway musical bonanzas, where you’re more like a visiting CEO visiting the plant regularly, changing this, overseeing that, making sure things are running properly and that the product is fresh and appealing.

“I’m here in Washington right now because as these kinds of shows go, with kids in them and all, we’re doing a bit of recasting, adding new performers,” he said. “The thing about kids is that they grow, they change.”

Lyn has a certain kind of show business in his veins, to put in British terms. He’s Welsh (the Lyn without the extra “n” says so), and that puts him in good theater company: think Catharine Zeta-Jones, Richard Burton and so on. He cut his theater teeth at Swansea Grand Theater in Wales, where they remember him fondly on the company’s Web site, charting his career from doing pantomimes to hosting musical shows to appearing with Zeta-Jones in a Swansea production of “The Sound of Music.”

From there, he went on to performing on cruise ships, getting a part in a production of “Anything Goes” with Elaine Paige, and landing a role in “Les Miserables.” That’s about the time he got interested in directing and talked his way into a job with Cameron Mackintosh. Next up: an assistant to Julie Taymor, who was directing the spectacularly successful “The Lion King” for Disney.

“She is just an amazing talent,” he says. “You have never seen such an eye, such creativity, it was an absolutely wonderful experience for me to work with the likes of her.”

It wasn’t that far removed from “Mary Poppins,” which now occupies a big part of his life.

“I know what critics think of Disney, that it’s this big business, giant corporation, heartless bottom-line and hokey stuff,” he says. “It’s nothing like that. You go to the Disney offices in New York, and it’s all theater folk like me.”

Still, the logistics of doing a national tour of “Mary Poppins” can be problematic.

“Everywhere you go is different,” he says. “Some of that has to do with the size of the venue. The theater in St. Louis, for instance, has 4,000-plus seats, and that requires a different level of projection. There are casting changes all of the time — actors sign a contract for a certain length of time and leave — the children, the sets, the physical opportunities and constraints. I think being a performer myself before has helped me in what I do. I know what it’s like, the whole touring thing, the changes, the pace, all of that.

“You know what it is about ‘Mary Poppins’?” he asks. “In all honesty, the show is full of heart, it’s about change and the parents, and the children, about that bond and imagination. I don’t mind saying so: it moves me still. You stay with a show long enough, all that coming and going, you form attachments. Every time there’s a cast change, there are goodbyes. You get to know people.

“It’s a funny thing that happens sometimes when there’s changes. An actor, even a child actor, will have their own views of things and they’ll make suggestions, and often it fits. You learn to listen. That way, you make sure things don’t get stale or change radically. I remember a long absence once, and an actor was playing his part in a way that changed everything. I didn’t recognize the show.”

Most of the time, “Mary Poppins” is a way of life for Lyn. A life a long way off from the Swansea Grand.

“Mary Poppins” runs at the Kennedy Center Opera House through Aug. 22.

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Thu, 24 Apr 2014 20:34:38 -0400

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