Mary Poppins flies into Perth for the final leg of a magical journey, bringing one of its stars back to where hers began. Julie Hosking catches up with WAAPA graduate Lucy Maunder.
Lucy Maunder is still catching her breath after landing in Perth – and not just because of her part in Mary Poppins.
While the effervescent musical is undoubtedly an endurance test for cast and crew, Maunder’s energy the week leading up to this interview has been consumed by someone much smaller, if every bit as endearing.
“I’ve got a six-year-old so there’s all the extracurricular activities and all the madness that brings, so I end up being a taxi service for a week and just doing homework, all the crazy things that go with parenting and trying to be on tour,” she says.
Not that Maunder is complaining. She loves working in musical theatre; it just takes her away from the family more than she’d like. Partner Jared and daughter Edie are back home in Melbourne, so when she gets a break between cities she tries to cram in as much as possible.
It’s a juggling act that became more challenging when Edie’s first year of school coincided with the opening of Mary Poppins in Sydney in May 2022. “I was flying back as much as I possibly could, but with our schedule the only we way we could do that was a 6am Monday morning flight and then back for the Tuesday night show,” she says.
“When she was younger, she was just on tour with me wherever we were, and I was lucky enough to have so much support from my partner’s family and also my mum who came on tour a lot. We get it done but it’s certainly tough at times to keep getting on planes and going away from them.”
Just as well, then, that the WAAPA graduate hasn’t tired of her character in Mary Poppins, which officially opens at Crown Theatre on Wednesday. She plays Winifred Banks, mother to the two children the magical nanny takes in hand.
“The thing I love about Winifred is she’s just such a stoic, positive and very warm and charming character. She’s always trying to do the best for the family,” Maunder says. “And she’s also really fun. And funny.”
She’s also rather different from the film’s Winifred, whose passion for the suffrage movement distracted her from the banalities of home life. Australian-born author PL Travers was not happy with the mother’s arc in the 1964 Walt Disney classic.
“When (producer) Cameron Mackintosh got the rights for Mary Poppins to do it on stage, she said you can have it but Winifred cannot be a suffragette,” Lucy says.
“Winifred was loosely based on her mother and in the books she doesn’t really feature a lot. So Cameron said if we do this we really have to flesh this character out. She has a really beautiful character arc, especially in the second act, and she’s still got the strength that she does in the film.”
This latest incarnation of Mary Poppins has had rave reviews and sellout audiences around the country, with Perth the final stop on the 18-month tour. What does Maunder think is behind its enduring appeal?
“On face value, the production is so spectacular that I think people are blown away with what they see on the stage – the costumes, the sets, the lighting, the sound,” she says. “The score is so beautiful and we’ve got all the songs that people know and love. And it’s got that kind of nostalgic vibe to it that everybody knows it but it’s different enough from the movie.”
And while this generation of children will love Mary Poppins every bit as much as those who came before them, Maunder says the stage show’s appeal is much broader. “It’s a very, very sophisticated piece of a theatre. And I think the direction is amazing; it flows really beautifully. It’s just magical.”
The last leg of this Poppins journey also marks a return to where it all began for the in-demand performer. For despite being raised by an opera singer and former director of the Royal Opera House, Maunder did not have a formal singing lesson until she started at WAAPA.
“I grew up in the opera world and my dad is a big music theatre nut, so I went and saw a heap of shows when we lived in the UK, but my childhood was more focused on ice skating and dancing,” she says. “When I was 13, I auditioned for a solo and I sang What I Did for Love from A Chorus Line and I remember my parents going like ‘oh my god, I had no idea that she could sing at all’!”
Maunder had always loved musical theatre, though, and acted in school musicals, so when she came to Perth at 18 to follow her dream she was up for the challenge. There is no doubt in her mind that WAAPA’s training set her up for the career that followed.
“Just being thrown into a course like that when you’re doing acting, you’re doing singing lessons, you do jazz, tap and ballet; you do the history of music and dramatic literature and the Alexander technique; and voice work and dialect work; and then you do productions on top of that,” she says.
“It’s such a broad range of skills you come out with, and I think it’s the perfect training ground for getting ready for the industry.”
Maunder thinks Perth’s isolation also helps young performers. “You’re kind of fully immersed in the world and you have room to make mistakes because you’re so far away from the rest of the country,” she says. “In the training institutions in the eastern states you’re on show from the second you start. But in Perth you get to go through your three years and then when you’re ready to ready to showcase then that’s the only time people see your work.”
Countless theatre goers have seen her work since she graduated in 2006, including as Lara in the Australian premiere of Dr Zhivago, Miss Honey in Tim Minchin’s Matilda, Mrs Bucket in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and songwriter Cynthia Weill in the Carole King biopic Beautiful. And she’s clearly having a ball in Mary Poppins, if the sense of sadness that it’s all coming to an end is any indication.
“When you’re touring for 18 months, you see the same people every day and you become like a very close-knit family,” she says. “It’s such a special show and a very special group of people. We’ve done 500 performances. So it will be tough to say goodbye.”
Fortunately, she’s still got more than six weeks in Perth to spend with them – and entertain us, night after night (and sometimes twice a day), in a three-hour musical extravaganza.
“You speak to a lot of people who say ‘you just get to sing and dance around for a living. How fun is that?’ And we’re incredibly lucky to be able to do what we love, but it is also kind of a bit of an Olympian effort to do eight shows a week, to keep your body healthy and your voice healthy, and just made sure you can cope with the vocal and physical demands of the show,” she says. “Mary Poppins is a huge show, especially for the principals but most notably Stefanie (Jones) and Jack (Chambers), who play Mary and Bert – it’s just a huge undertaking for them physically and vocally.”
How does Maunder manage to maintain the energy? “You have to try and grab as much rest as you possibly can when you can and make sure you continue to exercise outside the show,” she says. “And also just keep your mental health in check with exercise and eating really well … and taking it a day at a time.”
That focus on her wellbeing will stand Maunder in good stead for the next challenge – playing the fame-hungry Roxie Hart in Chicago, which opens in Perth in November. “I’ll be off to Sydney to rehearse the show once Mary Poppins closes and then straight back here into a very different show,” she says. “It’s a special, bucket-list kind of role that I’ve wanted to play since I first saw the show in London when I was 12 – Chicago has that X factor pull to every performer. It’s kind of a dream come true.”
Though it means once again being away from home, Maunder says the tour is manageable enough for her to spend plenty of time with Edie. Though she’s not sure she wants her daughter to follow in her theatrical footsteps, she may not have a choice.
“She sings from the second she wakes up and she never stops,” she says with a laugh. “She’s got her first production of The Little Mermaid, which her dance school is doing in October, so I’ll be there to see that.”
Like her mother, Edie’s taste is eclectic, too. “She sings anything and everything, sometimes she just makes songs up, or she’ll pop the radio on and belt out a few songs. She loves the soundtrack to (the musical) Waitress. She’s very inclined to performing, but we’ll see …”
For now, it’s her mother’s time to shine.
Pictured top: Tom Wren and Lucy Maunder play George and Winifred Banks, with a rotating cast of children playing Jane and Michael. Photo: Daniel Boud
Like what you're reading? Support Seesaw.