2014-2015 season!

The Wind in the Willows by Allan Bennett

The Wind in the Willows, known to many readers through theatrical adaptations such as Toad of Toad Hall, belongs to a select group of English classics whose    characters (Rat, Mole, Badger and Mr Toad) and their catchphrases ("messing about in boats"; "poop, poop!") require no introduction.    Endlessly recycled, in print, cartoon and   cinema, the ideas and images of Kenneth Grahame's masterpiece recur in the most  unlikely places. Chapter seven, "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn", is even  the name of Pink Floyd's first album in 1967.

The Wind in the Willows began as bedtime stories and letters addressed to Grahame's troubled son, a sickly boy known as "Mouse" who possibly inspired the willful character of Mr. Toad and who eventually committed suicide, aged 20, while at Oxford. Indeed, so personal were these stories that Grahame never intended to publish his material. The manuscript was first given to an American publisher, who rejected it. After the publication of The Wind in the Willows by Methuen in 1908, it found an unlikely fan in U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt who, in 1909, wrote to Grahame to tell him that he had "read it and reread it, and have come to accept the characters as old friends".  Elsewhere, the critical response was more mixed, and it was not until AA Milne, the author of    Winnie the Pooh,  adapted parts of the book into a popular stage version, Toad of Toad Hall, in 1929, that it became established as the evergreen children's classic it is known as today.

Since then it has been made into many     animated films, a stop motion puppet film, and s everal live action versions, including one with almost the   entire cast of Monty Python fame.  In 2003, Guillermo del Toro was working on an    adaptation for Disney. It was to mix live action with CG animation, and the director explained why he had to leave the helm. "It was a beautiful book, and then I went to meet with the executives and they said, 'Could you give Toad a skateboard and make him say, 'radical dude' things,' and that's when I said, 'It's been a pleasure...'"  Disney, of course, also has a ride at Disneyland called Toad’s Wild Ride, that takes the rider on a crazy car adventure through the     countryside.

Several authors have shared in the idyllic world Grahame first created as well.  William Horwood created several sequels to The Wind in the Willows: The Willows in Winter, Toad Triumphant, The Willows and Beyond, and The Willows at Christmas.  Another perspective on the story was Jan Needle's Wild Wood, which was published in 1981 with illustrations by  William Rushton.  It is a re-telling of the story of The Wind in the Willows from the point of view of the   working-class inhabitants of the Wild Wood. For them, money is short and employment hard to find. They have a very different perspective on the wealthy, easy, careless lifestyle of Toad and his friends.

Alan Bennett's delightful adaptation of Kenneth Grahame’s favorite children's story played to sell-out audiences at The National     Theatre when it was first produced in 1990.  The show featured a unique turn table set that could make Ratty’s house rise up out of the floor on an    elevator.  It has since become a Christmas time favorite in England, and in fact, one website    mentioned that it is most often performed in    England.  It is that taste of the English countryside, (and the actors here say the British accents), as well as the well drawn characters and hilarious lines and situations that brought ZCSTC back ‘round again to this classic version of the classic tale (or is it “tail”??).  

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 Mary Poppins, spring 2015

Mary Poppins is a musical based on the book series by P.L. Travers (1899-1996)  of the same name and, more notably, the 1964 musical film starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke.  The stage show features many of the original songs made famous by the  Oscar-winning duo of Richard and Robert Sherman, with additional music and lyrics from George Stiles and Anthony Drewe respectively, and a book by Julian  Fellowes, creator for the television series Downton Abbey.

                 The story of Walt Disney trying to get the rights to make a film of the series of Mary     Poppins books from their author, Pamela Travers covers twenty years, as Disney had to work very hard to convince the hard nosed Travers to allow her beloved characters onto a screen.  This story was the subject of the recent movie Saving Mr. Banks, starring Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson.  Eventually, the movie was made, and it remains a classic of the Disney library. However, after her experience with the film, Travers refused to do any more business with Disney, and any sequels were left undone.

The genesis of the musical came at the hands of mega-producer Cameron Mackintosh (Les Misérables, Cats, Miss Saigon).  In 1993, he met with Travers to get her permission to musicalize the stories of Mary Poppins.  When Travers agreed, he got in contact with Disney Theatrical in 2001, sparking a partnership that would allow the show to use music from the original movie.

Around 2002, Stiles and Drewe (Olivier winners for Honk!) had heard about the new collaboration, and wrote a demo song entitled "Practically Perfect" for the producers.  Once they listened to the song, they were brought onto the creative team.  Fellowes was then brought aboard for his "clear understanding of the social niceties of the English class system that prevailed in the Edwardian era."   A workshop of the musical was held at the end of 2003 at the Old Vic Theatre, using the cast from a recently-closed production of My Fair Lady.

The stage adaptation pulls some elements from the original book that were eliminated in the film, including the walking statue and the ladders to the stars.  Several scenes from the film were omitted, most notably the scenes of Uncle Albert laughing on the ceiling and the dancing penguins in "Jolly Holiday," which were replaced with dancing statues and a trip to Mrs. Corry's shop, respectively.  The musical        generally places more emphasis on Jane and Michael being naughty children, and their parents having more of a dysfunctional relationship.  Mrs. Banks is no longer a suffragette, but a former actress, and Mr. Banks' back story is much more fleshed out.  A handful of musical sequences have also been placed in a different chronology, including bumping up "Let's Go Fly a Kite" to the middle of the show rather than the end.

Mary Poppins had its world premiere at the Bristol Hippodrome in London with a limited engagement from September 18 to November 6, 2004.  The production, starring Laura Michelle Kelly and Gavin Lee, then moved to the Prince Edward Theatre on December 15, running more than three years until January 12, 2008.  With a very successful production, the producers' eyes turned west, and the New Amsterdam Theatre housed the Broadway premiere on November 16, 2006.  Initially starring Broadway performer Ashley Brown and returning player Gavin Lee, it made minimal changes to the songs and staging.  After almost seven years of success, the Broadway production closed on March 3, 2013 to make room for Disney Theatricals' new production of Aladdin.

For the touring productions of the show, the sets were significantly reduced in size and intermediate scenes were removed to accommodate for smaller houses.  The first tour began in the UK on June 4, 2008, playing until April 18, 2009.  The US tour started in Chicago on March 25, 2009, featuring performances from the leads of the Broadway production Ashley Brown and Gavin Lee.  Like its Broadway equivalent, the tour was extremely successful, playing its last performance in Anchorage, Alaska on June 2, 2013.

Mary Poppins has had several “firsts”.  It is the first Disney Theatrical show to open in the UK.  It is also the first show to open in collaboration with another theatre company, and it is currently the 30th longest-running show in Broadway history.  Mary Poppins was the first live-action Disney movie to be adapted to the stage.  Its success gave Disney Theatrical confidence to adapt other live-action films High School Musical, High School Musical 2, and Newsies.  The Broadway production of Mary Poppins was nominated for seven TONY Awards, including Best Musical and Best Choreography. 

Mary Poppins just became available for amateur groups to license in October of 2014.  When the chance came to do this show, it was definitely on the top of our list!  The fun songs, great characters, strong storyline, and lively dances were all a great fit for ZCSTC.  However, in addition to those considerations, we also had to figure out how to deal with a flying magical leading character, along with multiple large sets and effects and challenging choreography in numbers like Jolly Holiday and Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (yes, we know how to spell it for sure now!!).  After weeks of work by both cast and crew, you have one of the only productions of this brand new musical in this half of the state!  

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