American Actresses in London

An American Actor in London - Theater News  January 26, 2013 – 09:46 am

Gavin Creel outside the Prince Edward Theatre in London(© Michael Portantiere) Gavin Creel outside the Prince Edward Theatre in London
(© Michael Portantiere)

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Now, his fan base has expanded even further: He is in the ninth month of his run as Bert in the London production of Mary Poppins, having replaced Brit actor Gavin Lee, who crossed the pond in the other direction to star in the Broadway transfer. I recently spoke with Creel in his capacious dressing room at the Prince Edward Theatre on Old Compton Street.


THEATERMANIA: You come from a small city in Ohio, and you studied musical theater at the University of Michigan. Your career really took off when you moved to New York. How did you end up in Marry Poppins in London?

GAVIN CREEL: I auditioned for the Broadway production. They wanted to see if they had an American option for Bert, and they liked me, but they wanted to bring Gavin Lee over because he's so authentic. Gavin is Bert.

TM Do you have a deal to take over the role on Broadway when he leaves?

GC: There's nothing official. I'm totally interested, but talk to me in another seven months; I'll probably need a break first. I've extended my contract here till November. That's a long time to be away from home.

TM: Did you have to join British Equity?

GC: I don't know. I think I did! All of that was taken care of for me before I came; I had to get a work visa and a work permit. I'm still a member of American Equity, and I'm here as part of the exchange program. Everybody thinks that I'm an exchange for Gavin, but I'm not. He's married to an American, so he can work on Broadway whenever he wants. I'm actually an exchange for Lisa O'Hare, who's now playing Mary Poppins here; she's going to the States this summer to play Eliza in the tour of My Fair Lady that Trevor Nunn and Matthew Bourne are doing.

TM: Was it a challenge for you to develop a convincing Cockney accent for Bert? Dick Van Dyke's accent in the movie has come in for a lot of criticism.

GC: I know! Over here, they call it "Mockney." Being an American, I was definitely under the microscope. People were waiting to see how I would do with the dialect, so I worked really hard at it. I knew I wanted to play Bert as soon as I heard about the show. It's rare that a part like this comes along, where you're sort of the leading man but you're also the character guy and the narrator -- and you get to dance a lot.

TM: How did you prepare?

GC: Long before they even scheduled the auditions in New York, I went to the Drama Book Shop, bought a Cockney accent CD, and listened to it over and over on my iPod. During my callbacks, the dialogue coach for the premiere company worked with me a lot. Then, when I came here, I had another coach.

TM: I'm sure it's helped just to be around Brits all the time.

GC: Of course. It's all about immersion. There are people in our cast who are more East London than others, so I listen to them. Steve Kerwin is full-on Cockney, and Jamie Farr; she's just as Cockney as can be.

TM: There's an actress in your company named Jamie Farr?

GC: Yes. She doesn't understand why that's funny -- and she doesn't look at all like Klinger from M*A*S*H.

TM: So, have you gotten positive feedback about the accent?

GC: Yes. Our production stage manager's father is a director; he saw the show last week, and he said he never would have guessed that I'm American. Children have come up to me after the show and said [clipped Brit accent:] "You're very good." They're the hardest audience, because they're so honest. If you're not good, they'll just look at you funny. Also, when I do collection speeches after curtain calls, the audience seems very surprised to hear the way I really speak.


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