Chatting with Penny McNamee, our new Mary Poppins

Penny McNamee, one of Australia’s rising stars, will be playing the practically perfect nanny Mary Poppins in Packemin’s upcoming production at the Riverside Theatre from July 24 – August 8. McNamee has had an extensive career on both stage and screen. 

Penny McNamee
Penny McNamee

After originating the role of Nessarose in the Australian production of Wicked, she has gone on to feature in many TV series including Elementary, Blue Bloods and All Saints. Before McNamee’s successful career began, she was heavily involved in Sydney Youth Musical Theatre (SYMT) where she fostered a passion for performing from a young age. We talked to Penny about all things musicals and all things Poppins. 

When did you realise you wanted to pursue musical theatre professionally?

“I didn’t actually know it was a career choice until I was 17 and I did my school musical. Up until then I had been in the ensemble of SYMT productions and it had been great fun as a hobby. And then I played the role of Josephine in my school production of HMS Pinafore and it was my first lead role as an adult character. A few parents and teachers spoke to my parents about potentially pursuing it further, so my dad talked to me and suggested I should try it. And it was at that point, that I had my first thought of ‘maybe I could do this is as a career.’”

What’s it like working alongside the kids in this show and being a mentor to so many young performers who are in the same position you were?

“I have really enjoyed having conversations with them and answering their questions. It’s a really hard career to pursue because there’s no direct path; every path to becoming an actor is different for each person. I enjoy reassuring younger performers that they just need to follow their instincts, to work hard and to keep training. Watching these kids get so excited about getting to perform, reminds me of why I got into it in the first place.”

How have rehearsals been going?

“We’ve been going for 2 months so far. It’s going really well. The cast is amazing. You would never know this isn’t their fulltime job. Everyone sees it as a privilege to be working as part of a Packemin show so they are all working so hard. Everyone has a real professional work ethic towards the show.

The production team is amazing. The choreography by Camilla Jakimowicz is some of the best choreography I’ve ever seen. And with Peter Hayward as the musical director, and Neil Gooding as the director; the production team is first class. So rehearsals are really professional, but also really fun; people are there because they love musical theatre. “

Penny McNamee
Penny McNamee as Nessarose in Wicked

What’s it like to get the opportunity to play such an iconic character?

“It’s amazing. Every girl that grows up wanting to perform adores Julie Andrews. There weren’t many lines I needed to learn because I knew every single word from the movie. I am thrilled to sing the songs I grew up singing in my living room at age 5. It’s corny but it really is a dream come true to partake in the magic that is Mary Poppins.”

Out of all your fantastic numbers, which is your favourite?

“I have two. My favourite upbeat number is ‘Supercalifragilistic’ because the whole ensemble is on stage, the choreography is really fun, and it’s the most enjoyable number to perform. And my other favourite number that I don’t think people would expect is ‘Feed the Birds’. It’s such a beautiful song and the message is gorgeous; to see past appearances and to care for other people. And I love that it’s a female duet.”

The most important question: have you mastered saying ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ backwards yet?

“Every time we get to that part in rehearsals I point to one of the boys in the cast who says it for me, as I haven’t got it down yet! Come opening night, I’ll have it!”

What are you most excited about with this production?

“I’m most excited about my nieces and nephews coming and seeing it. I have 9 nieces and nephews ranging in age from 3-11 and they’re all at the perfect age to love Mary Poppins. I think I’ll always treasure getting to play a role they’ll really enjoy.”

Packemin Production’s Mary Poppins opens at the Riverside Theatre on July 24. To book tickets head to Don’t miss out on this show – it’s sure to be supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

Bec Caton

Bec has a diploma in musical theatre and is currently completing a Bachelor of Arts majoring in English. She is a freelance theatre writer in Sydney.

Bec Caton

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