Different actors will approach famous roles in different ways. When Ann Michels was cast as the title character in Chanhassen Dinner Theatres' Mary Poppins, she began to research not just the original film, but the original novels and the story of P.L. Travers.
Meanwhile Mark King, cast as helpful chimney sweep Bert, has a long love affair with the film. Still, he wanted to keep as far away from it as possible when getting ready for the stage version.
"I didn't want to watch the film because of [Dick Van Dyke's] accent. That is the chief crisis of the movie. I don't even remotely want to pick up on the accent he did," King says.
In fact, King worked with a dialect coach to find a Cockney accent that was both authentic and understandable for an American audience.
For King, singing these songs and playing the role is a particular thrill. It's something he has felt before.
"When I was I was in Singin' in the Rain, I got to play Cosmo singing 'Good Morning.' It's one of my favorite films, and it was exciting to do it every night," King says. The same is happening with Mary Poppins. "I get to do this great iconic masterpiece onstage."
Michels remembers a similar experience while playing in Beauty and the Beast. "I looked over, and one of my friends was dressed as a spoon. I was dressed as a champagne glass. This was our job," she says.
The stage version is not a replica of the famous film. Instead, it uses material and songs from that version, and merges it with scenes derived from the various books, with a script written by Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes. A number of additional songs were written for the stage version.
"It's a fairly new script. People have to make their peace that the musical is a very different animal. It's very much a hybrid of the books and the Disney film," Michels says. "It's a much more faithful adaptation of the books. The books gave us a much more stern nanny. It was a good reason for this family. It is through this order and structure and showing them the world that she brings them back to being a family."
Of course, the limitations of the stage -- and Chanhassen's theater itself -- mean you aren't going to have dancing animated penguins, or even the nanny flying around the room. Then again, as Michels notes, there's more than one way to fly onstage.
"I hope people come with an open mind. People who loved the movie or who came from a place where they loved the books will enjoy this," Michels says.
IF YOU GO:
Mary Poppins In previews; opens Friday Chanhassen Dinner Theatres 501 W. 78th St., Chanhassen $51-$69 (show only); $62-$84 (with dinner) For tickets and more information, call 952-934-1525 or visit online.