A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, and Theatre Under The Stars is helping Houstonians celebrate the holiday season with Disney and Cameron Mackintosh’s Mary Poppins. Bret Shuford, who portrays the demanding and orderly Mr. Banks, has a lot to be grateful for this season and will be celebrating with audiences at The Hobby Center throughout December.
Shuford, a Houston native, explains that the stage production of Mary Poppins offers a bit more insight into the beloved film characters, including Mr. Banks. “He is very lost at the top of the show. He’s a banker and he’s trying really hard to keep up with the Joneses and figure out how to become a high-ranking member of society. He has sort of forgotten what it means to be a parent,” the out artist explains. “That’s where Mary Poppins comes in and helps remind him and the family what it means to have a family. A lot of it is based on the trauma of his own childhood, and I think we can all [relate to] that.”
The bona fide Disney fanatic assures us that the stage production of the musical is guided heavily by the books on which the film is based—with plenty of new surprises, songs, and stories to delight audiences. “The musical stage version incorporates songs from the film that we all love, like ‘Jolly Holiday’ and ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,’ but it really goes back to P.L. Travers’ original text,” Shuford, who has a number of Broadway credits under his belt, says. “It has a much more British-like quality, and you kind of get back to the core of what Travers really intended with the characters.”
Although the film is a beloved classic, Shuford explains that the stage production is an experience all its own. “There’s more transformations that happen, more storylines, because it’s based off the first two books instead of just the first book. You get all these back stories [that help us] understand Mary’s relationship with the children, the dad, and Bert the chimney sweep. It’s a much more complex story when you get back to the roots of what the books were.”
Aside from the show being a family-friendly way to celebrate the holidays, Shuford basks in the mere notion of performing in a space like the Hobby Center. “I think getting to experience live theater, being in a room with a collective group of people, and experiencing something happening live and in person, is unlike anything else. Having the opportunity to see a story about a family, learning the value of their family, with your family, could be such a beautiful experience that I don’t think you can get anywhere else.”
Houston is home for Shuford, who grew up in the Bayou City before returning to plant roots with his husband, Stephen. The hometown kid is back to dazzle Houston audiences, but it’s extra-special this year. “It’s been really cool doing this show, being a new dad, and sort of understanding what it means to value your children and value a family, and what family means, what family is, because I think it’s different for so many people,” this thespian triple-threat explains. “I think the timing of this—coming back to my hometown, where I grew up as a kid, having a kid, and then doing this show—has been a really interesting, deep, sort of nostalgic dive into what it means to be a parent.”
Shuford and his husband are navigating their new way of family life, working as performers in tandem while also having gone from a dynamic duo to a showstopping trio. “It’s not easy. We have a lot of amazing friends and family nearby, so we can rely on them to help. But it has been an interesting experience, juggling it all.” Shuford leans on his fellow actors to learn the ins and outs of being a parent with non-typical working hours. “It’s been nice to feel like we’re not alone and we’re not living out in outer space, floating around trying to figure out how to be dads.”
With a plethora of holiday performances to see in Houston every year, Shuford makes his case for why Poppins is the perfect pick. “It’s classic! All the songs are recognizable, and you’re going to be singing along with all of them. You’ve got magic, you’ve got flying, you’ve got dance—huge production numbers with amazing dancers, beautiful voices. You’re just not going to see all of those things in one place except at TUTS.”
Performances for Disney and Cameron Mackintosh’s Mary Poppins run Dec. 6–24. For more information or to buy tickets, visit https://www.tuts.com/shows/disneys-mary-poppins.
Out@TUTS Event: December 15, 2022
LGBTQ+ musical theatre fans (and friends) are invited to a very special night during the run of each show, Out@TUTS! After the curtain goes down, the party continues with free bites, drink specials and live music, hosted by the Broadway Beauty of Texas, Regina Thorne-DuBois. Mingle with the cast and crew members, sing a few show tunes, and celebrate an inclusive Houston! Sponsored by OutSmart Magazine and Kirkwood Music Services. All are welcome! Get tickets here