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Step in Time

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Stage magic happens when actors make the impossible look easy, and Bert, the gravity-defying chimney sweep in Mary Poppins, is easily one of the most magical characters to ever dance all the way around a theater's proscenium arch. "If only I'd known when I was training in college what I know now," says Con O'Shea-Creal, who plays Bert in a national tour that sweeps into town Tuesday, February 5th, for a six-day run at the Orpheum. "If I had, I'd have danced with heavy wrist and ankle weights all the time."

Cast members are legally obligated to keep mum about the secret techniques that allow dancers to go vertical during the show-stopping "Step in Time" musical number. O'Shea-Creal is allowed to say that the tech can be constrictive, and the dancing, which would be difficult under normal circumstances, can be completely counterintuitive when all of Newton's laws have been tossed out the window.

O'Shea-Creal says he wanted to tip his sooty sweep's topper to Dick Van Dyke but didn't want to accidently lift anything from the original Bert's performance. "When I booked the show, I decided I wasn't going to watch the movie again," he says. "What I remember about Dick Van Dyke in that role, and what I try to bring, is how much he truly cared for the children in this heavily corseted London and also how much he enjoyed bringing pleasure for other people."

O'Shea-Creal also likes to remind theatergoers that, while Mary Poppins may be the story of a flying nanny who aims to make everyone in her charge as spit-spot perfect as she is, it's not just a children's story. "The [musical's script] was written by Julian Fellowes who created Downton Abbey," he says. "So no worries. The material is good."

Mary Poppins at the Orpheum February 5th-10th. $15-$95. orpheum-memphis.com

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