With Disney and Cameron Mackintosh's production of Mary Poppins set to open at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre tomorrow night, we took the opportunity to speak to its leading lady Zizi Strallen about taking on the biggest role of her career - and the most iconic.
Hi Zizi! You've had roles in other musical theatre productions in the past, like Cats and Merrily We Role Along - but is Mary your first leading role?
Yes, it’s my biggest role –it’s probably one of the biggest female roles in musical theatre really, there’s not much that really tops it!
You have a family background in theatre – does that mean that you were predisposed to the stage, rather than the big or small screens?
Anything to do with acting or performing has always been a huge part of my family – though it was never something we were pushed into, me and my three sister have just gone for it and we all really enjoy it. We are very privileged to be able to do it. I’m open really to any doors that night open to me - I did some TV work as a kid so I’d love to do some more. I’m up for anything, really!
Taking on such an iconic role must have been daunting – Julie Andrews made the role her own in so many ways. Were you nervous about a) auditioning for it and b) actually winning the role?
Oh yeah I was really nervous, as it’s such a big role! I never thought in a million years that I would get it but all my auditions went well and I had a nice rapport with Cameron and the other directors so it all came together nicely and they saw me as Mary, which was lovely.
How do you prepare for a role like Mary Poppins? Do you re-watch the film, or did you studiously avoid doing so, so that you'd be better prepared to put your own spin on it?
I have seen the film about a million times. I was obsessed with it as a child, so I didn’t feel I needed to go back and watch the film to prepare - but I went to quite a few singing lessons and had to work on the stamina of my voice, with 8 shows a week.
What's your own personal favourite song/scene of the show?
The part of the show that I enjoy the most is a number called Step in Time in Act 2, because it’s an incredible number - and also Supercalifragilistic, of course!
I've heard that it's a very physical role and you're very active with dance moves, etc. Do you have to make an effort to keep fit while on tour? (No post-show McDonald's, etc.!)
Haha, no. Well I did quite a lot of work with Matthew Bourne’s company and I played Lana in the Carman before Mary Poppins - so working with his company, we learn to keep yourself fit and what to eat. So that has helped hugely in preparing for my role as Mary.
Obviously the show is coming to Dublin at the perfect time of year, and we're lucky to have you here just before Christmas. Does performing a show like Mary Poppins around this time of year give the cast and crew an extra boost?
I personally love when families and children come in to watch the show. I sometimes meet them at the Stage Door afterwards and they’re so sweet, and they really believe that I’m Mary Poppins! The show itself really suits Christmas because it’s all about family and bringing the family together.
Finally, given that Mary usually has everything that anyone needs in her carpet bag, what should we bring along to the Bord Gais Energy Theatre for the show?
Loud cheering and laughter!
Mary Poppins runs at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre from December 3rd - January 9th.