A Spoonful of Poppins: Fun Facts About The Hit Broadway Musical Mary Poppins

by Elisa Lichtenbaum, Senior Writer, WNET

Vineland High School's Jaclyn Kell as Mary Poppins

Vineland High School’s Jaclyn Kell as Mary Poppins, as seen in I Can’t…I Have Rehearsal.

The magic of theater – and the hard work behind it — takes center stage in I Can’t…I Have Rehearsal, a new documentary from NJTV that follows students at six diverse New Jersey high schools as they rehearse and perform Mary Poppins, and compete in the Tony Awards of New Jersey high school musical theater: Paper Mill Playhouse’s prestigious Rising Star Awards.

To set the stage for this supercalifragilsitic special, which premieres Wednesday, May 17 at 8 pm on NJTV, we’ve gathered some fun facts about Mary Poppins, the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical about the high-flying nanny who is “practically perfect” in every way.

In the Beginning

The musical Mary Poppins is based on the popular children’s books by P.L. Travers and the 1964 Walt Disney film starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. It ran on Broadway for 2,619 performances (October 14, 2006 — March 3, 2013) at the New Amsterdam Theatre.

Bert and Mary

Laura Michelle Kelly and Gavin Lee originated the roles of Mary Poppins and Bert, respectively, in the Olivier Award-winning London production of Mary Poppins. Ashley Brown was Broadway’s first Mary, with Lee reprising the role of Bert.

Mr. Downton Abbey

Julian Fellowes, creator of the popular PBS British drama series Downton Abbey, wrote the book for the musical.


In the showstopping “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” number, the Chatterboxes in Mrs. Corry’s Talking Shop spell this incredible word in dance. The movement was inspired by British sign language and co-choreographer Stephen Mear’s partner, who is deaf. Choreographer Matthew Bourne describes it as “a tongue-twister in movement.”

Flying High

The actresses who played Mary Poppins in the Broadway production flew up and across more than 50 feet through the New Amsterdam Theatre. The flying effects were designed by Flying by Foy, the legendary theatrical flying service that has given flight to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, Phantom of the Opera, and many other Broadway shows, as well as thousands of Peter Pans, including Jean Arthur, Mary Martin, Sandy Duncan, and Cathy Rigby.

Wardrobe Wonders

There were 250 costumes and 52 wigs in Mary Poppins.

Home Sweet Home

Bob Crowley won Tony and Drama Desk Awards for his scenic design for the Broadway production, which featured a nearly full-sized English home weighing five tons.

Sugar Sweetens the Ask

The song “A Spoonful of Sugar,” originally written for the 1964 Disney movie, was inspired by the polio vaccine. Julie Andrews initially passed on the role of Mary, so the songwriting team – brothers Richard and Robert Sherman — wrote a special tune to woo her. Robert’s kids received their polio shots that day and told him it didn’t hurt as the medicine was placed on a sugar cube and tasted like candy. Et voila – a song was born!

At The Movies

Saving Mr. Banks, a 2014 film starring Emma Thompson as author P.L. Travers and Tom Hanks as Walt Disney, revealed the surprising story behind the making of Disney’s classic Mary Poppins movie.

Poppins 2018

Coming to cinemas on Christmas Day 2018: Mary Poppins Returns, a sequel starring Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Angela Lansbury, and Meryl Streep, with a cameo by Dick Van Dyke. Rob Marshall (Chicago) directs, with new songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (Hairspray, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory).

Now Playing

Need a Mary Poppins fix? Paper Mill Playhouse has got you covered with their new production, running May 24-June 25 and featuring choreography by Denis Jones (Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn).

Funding for I Can’t…I Have Rehearsal was made possible by the Jean Dubinsky Appleton Estate.