Broadway actor Mark Ledbetter, from New York City, is nothing short of compelling. I had the opportunity to review the inaugural performance of Mary Poppins in Cambridge, Ontario, where I confessed that my favourite character was the ever charismatic and charming Bert, played my Ledbetter.
Like most actors, the interview got underway as we made our way to a quiet corner table in the grand entrance of the Dunfield Theatre. All hands were on deck preparing for the afternoon Matinee performance of Mary Poppins. Mark explained that he is very excited that he and his wife, Jen Taylor, are embracing this experience together. Jen plays various roles in the performance as well.
Mark and Jen are no strangers to theatre. They met on the first national tour of ‘The Drowsy Chaperone’ where they played opposite one another. Jen was part of the ensemble in Mary Poppins on Broadway. When they are not performing, the couple teaches Broadway Master Classes to students in NYC and across the US. Classes include dance technique, mock auditions and in depth scene study and choreography workshops.
After meeting with Mark, I’d love to participate in their classes. His personality is charming, up-beat, and so endearing.
What do you think of our little town of Cambridge?
Ledbetter: Cambridge is a lovely little town. There are some great restaurants and everyone is so friendly. We knew one person in the cast and we knew Alex because we had spoken on the phone. We didn’t know what the production would be like and it has far exceeded our expectations. People in the company are so kind, so generous, and so talented. It’s wonderful.
I have to let you know that I didn’t think my husband, who is a service manager/mechanic type, would enjoy a performance with all of the singing and choreography, but during intermission he looked at me and said “This is amazing!!”
Ledbetter: That’s so great!! That’s brilliant. That’s the best. When you can reach and open the eyes of somebody that hasn’t necessarily looked to theatre as a first place for entertainment, it’s brilliant.
I thought Mary Poppins was a great selection to open the new Dunfield Theatre.
Ledbetter: Great Choice! Great Timing! It’s a big show. It’s the probably one of the biggest shows Drayton has ever done. It’s enormous with all of the technical things that go along with it. The cast, the musical numbers, and the company never stops changing costumes and make-up. It’s wonderfully staged. Niegel West, who directed it, did a great job staging it, keeping the flow and keeping everything moving forward. It’s a hard show. There is a lot that has to happen. As you saw, it’ll go back to that nursery scene for just a few minutes and then move right on again. You’re not in the scene for very long, but you have to go there to keep the story going.
Ledbetter: Initially, when I joined the Broadway company, it was my Broadway debut. The show just recently opened, I was first replacement in the show. It’s a one-time thing, a show of a lifetime. I got to perform with the show on the Tony Awards. I got to perform in a lot of the television press leading up to the Tony’s. All of that stuff and getting to perform in the Broadway company was a once in a lifetime type of performance opportunity.
Drayton was exciting for me because it was a chance to go back to the beginning and start fresh. It’s a brand new production, all new staging, all new choreography. That’s exciting because you find something new when you join a show from the beginning. On Broadway, you don’t get an intense rehearsal in regards to going into the details. You talk the show, but you don’t get a full process as you do when you start from the beginning.
I was excited to come here and be part of the whole process with the cast. Jayme Armstrong, who’s our Mary, is brilliant and to discover the role through her and what Nigel came up with was different and new for me as well. It was exciting to make Bert a more active participant in the story telling, overseeing of the story along side Mary, and the journey of the Bank’s family to change them and open their eyes to the family that they have. This is what drew me here was the opportunity.
I absolutely loved the relationship between you and Jayme. It’s totally endearing and you can tell that you have a really great connection.
Ledbetter: We laugh non-stop through the rehersal process. She’s a star in her own right. She’s really brilliant. She’s an incredible actress who is singing the pants off this role. This is not an easy role by any means and we’re having a great time. I’m very lucky and thrilled to work with her.
When did you arrive in Cambridge to start rehearsals?
Ledbetter: We rehearsed for four weeks. I’m living in here in the building. They built dorm style housing and my wife and I are in one of the units here. It’s actually fantastic. It’s wrong to call them a dorm because my remembrance of a dorm is far from what I’m living in right now. This complex is incredible. There isn’t a lot of structures like this in North America.
After Cambridge, are you looking forward to taking Mary Poppins to other Drayton Theatres?
LedBetter: We’ll be spending four weeks in Grand Bend. Everyone in the cast is excited about this run.
How did you hear about Drayton?
Ledbetter: They contacted me actually. A friend of mine name Robert Creighton III, who has actually worked with Drayton many years ago, mentioned my name when Alex was looking for the role of Bert. Robert did ‘Anything Goes’ on Broadway, he’s from around here, and we’ve been friends for years.
What is your dream role? Something you aspire to play in the future?
Ledbetter: The ideal dream would be to originate a role in a show that hasn’t been written. Something that’s crafted around your talents and what you do. That’s the ultimate, to be a part of something new and to be part of it early on, through the workshops and writing of it and having something written for you. Something that really highlights what you do and enjoy.
There are some really great roles out there that I’ve played. For one example being Bert is a role that I’ve checked off. I’m excited about what might be next. I don’t really know, you never really know.
What was it like doing a commercial with Jimmy Fallon?
Ledbetter: That was a lot of fun! I haven’t seen it yet and I don’t know if it is airing. It was myself and two other actors doing the doo-wop back up for him in one of those Capital One commericials. He so funny and he could not have been nicer!