Few get to act dirty in a Disney musical. Con O’Shea-Creal does, because that’s what you do when you’re cast as the chimney sweep of Mary Poppins.
Taking a visual cue from Dick Van Dyke’s performance as Bert in the beloved 1964 film, O’Shea-Creal spends much of the stage show covered in soot.
“We’ve developed a special kind of black talc powder that we use. I sweat so much in the show that I have to keep reapplying. I’m pretty grubby by the end, but it’s fun,” he said. “I had a very close friend point out to me, ‘You have the best job, because you get to do what all little boys want to do: Go play in dirt and rub it on your face every day.’”
Indeed, the Nebraska native is having the time of his life with the touring production of Poppins, which opens Tuesday for a run of eight performances at Civic Center Music Hall.
“It’s an adrenaline rush every night,” he said. “I have to remind myself to breathe and calm down.”
A 2008 graduate of the University of Oklahoma, O’Shea-Creal said he’s not trying to fill Van Dyke’s shoes.
“I’m trying to play Bert my own way. But what I remember most was his care and love for the children,” he said. “The fact that Mary was there with them was all he needed to know that he knew what his job was: to help them discover whatever he was there to teach them.”
“It really ties in more to those stories. They’ve done a really great job of capturing the essence of what the film was, but still stay true to the true source material,” said O’Shea-Creal, praising the script by Julian Fellowes, creator of TV’s Downton Abbey. “I think it’s one of the most top-rate transitions from a movie onto a stage that I’ve ever seen.”
Part of that, O’Shea-Creal believes, is Mary’s continuing message of hope.
“Most people would agree the world is flawed in some way. There’s something about this life that is just a little bit off,” he said. “The idea that there’s someone looking out for you — for all of us, that’s an exciting thing to think about.”