OU grad lands role as Bert in "Mary Poppins"
BY JAMES D. WATTS JR. World Scene Writer
Sunday, November 11, 2012
11/11/12 at 8:33 AM
As far as Con O'Shea-Creal is concerned, he's been on vacation for much of this year.
"I've always thought that a performer's real job is auditioning," O'Shea-Creal said. "Once you get a role, the rehearsing, the performing, the touring - that's like vacation."
O'Shea-Creal's current "vacation" began in February, when he joined the cast of the national touring production of "Mary Poppins."
The University of Oklahoma graduate started out as a member of the ensemble but this summer was promoted to the role of Bert, the London chimney sweep who serves as a kind of narrator for this musical, based on the books by P.L. Travers and the 1964 Disney movie adapted from them.
"Mary Poppins," about an English family whose lives are upended by the arrival of a seemingly magical nanny, includes many of the songs from the 1964 movie, written by Richard and Robert Sherman, and follows the broad outline of the film's story. The new book by Julian Fellowes, author of "Downton Abbey," adds a slightly darker tone that is more in keeping with Travers' original stories.
The tour comes to the Tulsa PAC on Tuesday, following a weeklong engagement in Oklahoma City.
"It's going to be like a homecoming," O'Shea-Creal said. "My family still lives in Nebraska, but they love coming to Oklahoma. When I was in school in Norman, they took every chance they could to come to Oklahoma. And I think a lot of the music theater school at OU is going to be coming to the show, as well."
Being a part of the "Mary Poppins" cast is especially meaningful for O'Shea-Creal because it's a show he first auditioned for in 2008, as soon as he landed in New York City after graduating from OU.
"That's why I say auditioning is the real job," he said. "In 2011 alone, I went in about 13 times, auditioning for 'Mary Poppins.' I think ultimately it was a matter of my being the right fit at the right time for the right role. But I had to keep coming back."
O'Shea-Creal started studying tap dance at age 7 - "it was the familiar story of me getting signed up because my sister went," he said. "My mother was a huge fan of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly - sometimes I think we watched 'White Christmas' on a daily basis."
He also performed in school choirs and plays, but it wasn't until his junior year in high school that the idea of bringing all these activities together really occurred to him.
"Until then, I had no idea you could study musical theatre," he said, laughing. "And it's funny, once I went to OU, I canceled all my other auditions at other schools - even though OU hadn't yet given me an offer. I just felt at home there, and the training I got there was really phenomenal."
While in the course of doing all those auditions for "Mary Poppins," O'Shea-Creal found other work, including performing in seasonal productions of "Irving Berlin's White Christmas," in New York and on tour.
The role of Bert gives O'Shea-Creal the chance to stretch as a performer. It's a tap-dance-intensive role to start, but as the narrator, "Bert doesn't acknowledge the 'fourth wall,' " he said. "And that's really the crux of my job, to make that connection with the audience right at the start.
"In fact," O'Shea-Creal said, "perhaps my favorite moment in the show comes right after 'Step in Time,' which is one of the big dance numbers. Bert and Mr. Banks have this conversation about their struggles in life and what they think their purpose is.
"It's kind of a quiet scene, but for me, it's exhilarating to do because I haven't had a lot of opportunities where I simply have to act, and in doing so, pass on one of the great messages this show has."
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m.
Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m.
Where: Chapman Music Hall, Tulsa PAC,
101 E. Third St.
Tickets: $20-$75. 918-596-7111, tulsaworld.com/mytix.
Original Print Headline: Try, try again
James D. Watts Jr. 918-581-8478
University of Oklahoma graduate Con O'Shea-Creal (right, with Madeline Trumble as Mary Poppins) auditioned more than a dozen times for "Mary Poppins" before landing the role of Bert. COURTESY / Jeremy Daniel
COURTESY / Kyle Froman