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A very familiar face returns to 'Mary Poppins'

January 23, 2010 |  5:53 am

Dickvandyke580 No matter how much you like the stage version of  “Mary Poppins,” the original 1964 Disney movie is never far from mind. Which is why the Ahmanson Theatre audience went crazy Friday night when it was told Richard M. Sherman, one of the film’s songwriters, was in the house and went even crazier when it learned Dick Van Dyke, one of the film’s stars, would make a surprise appearance during the show.

The effervescent actor did not portray Bert, the Cockney chimney sweep he made famous. Instead he reprised his other (and less well known) screen role–Mr. Dawes Sr., the crotchety bank president and boss of Poppins’ boss, Mr. Banks. Van Dyke had to cajole Walt Disney into giving him the part because Disney thought Van Dyke–then in his 30s– was too young to be the ancient moneyman. The actor reportedly won him over by acing a screen test, agreeing to portray Dawes for free and making a donation to the California Institute of the Arts, which Disney co-founded.

Van Dyke had a much easier time getting the chance to play the tottering, doddering banker at the Ahmanson. After seeing the Disney-Cameron Mackintosh production of “Poppins” when it opened here in November,  he volunteered to join the cast for a cameo. Dawes--a character not included in the stage musical--was written into a pivotal scene in which Banks finds out whether he’s going  to lose his job.

Although he’s 84, Van Dyke still cuts a spry figure and flashes a familiar impish grin. During his Big Moment late in the second act,  he was easy to spot as he staggered through the bank’s doors, gummed and mugged to the crowd’s delight, sputtered a few choice words and then burst into “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” accompanied by a jig.

"Old actors don't die," Van Dyke quipped after the show. "They keep doing the same part over and over."

-- Karen Wada

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Theater review: 'Mary Poppins' at the Ahmanson Theatre

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