Rebecca Pitcher grew up loving Mary Poppins. She enjoyed both the story of the beloved nanny who transforms strict banker George Banks and his family as well as the iconic songs from the 1964 movie.
But when the Berea native auditioned for the role of Mary Poppins in the Broadway musical four years ago, she was told she was too old to play the part. It didn't matter that she was only in her 30s or that she'd made a name for herself portraying Christine Daae in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera for a decade in the touring production. In producers' minds, Mary Poppins was 20 to 25 years old.
"A lot of regional companies feel that their Mary Poppins needs to be much younger than Mrs. Banks, who is the mother," says Pitcher, now 43.
Yet Beck Center for the Arts artistic director Scott Spence thought Pitcher was practically perfect for the lead in the theater's 2014 production — so perfect, in fact, he asked her to reprise it in an encore show running Dec. 4 through Jan. 3. Spence has known the actress since she portrayed Johanna in the center's 1994 staging of Sweeney Todd while studying vocal performance at Baldwin Wallace University.
"She's got just one of the premier voices in the industry," he raves of the clarion soprano. "Mary Poppins can't be all voice. You need presence, you need a sense of droll comedy, you need command of the stage. Becca really is gifted — she's got the ability to do all those. And she's a darn good dancer too."
Songs from the musical augment movie classics such as "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious." One of Pitcher's favorites is "Playing the Game," featured in a scene where the children's abused toys come alive and taunt their owners. "It's a little nightmarish," she admits.
Poppins doesn't fly with a simple opening of her umbrella. Instead of investing about $10,000 in riggings to send Pitcher soaring, Spence hired New York City-based projection designer Mike Tutaj to simulate flight by projecting videos on a backdrop of 65 white umbrellas. "It's really quite stunning," Spence says.
Pitcher doesn't tire of playing Poppins. Like Daae in Phantom of the Opera, Poppins is always changing and evolving. Pitcher is on a constant quest to better convey "that little twinkle in Mary's eyes," she says. "She's always got that secret plan in the back of her mind."