BWW Reviews: MARY POPPINS Soars into Grand Rapids

BWW Reviews: MARY POPPINS Soars into Grand Rapids

The hottest ticket in West Michigan right now is indisputably Mary Poppins. Selling out even their final dress rehearsal, Grand Rapids Civic Theatre has brought together a technical powerhouse that will thrill the most seasoned audiences.

In an auditorium adorned with brightly colored kites, and a friendly "Chim Chim Cheree", the loveable jack-of-all-trades and narrator of the show, Bert, introduces us to the dysfunctional Banks family: George, Winifred, Michael, and Jane. The well-known story proceeds as expected: two bitter children have driven away six nannies and their parents have become desperate. An enigmatic nanny blown in by the wind, Mary Poppins, appears at the Banks' home, and immediately whips the children into shape, proving that "a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down." After many magical adventures accompanied by Bert and myriad eccentric and loveable characters, George learns how to love his family again, his wife realizes her own power and potential, and the two kids learn the value of kindness.

Alyssa Bauer and William Schutte confidently lead the show as Mary Poppins and Bert. Whether singing, dancing, or flying high above the stage, they both project outstanding stage presence and joy in their roles. The children, Alex Sullivan (Nick Altena alternating) for Michael Banks, and Elizabeth Foster (Abbie Westers alternating) for Jane, really aren't as horrible as everyone makes them out to be. Through some first-rate acting, it is easy to see that while spoiled and selfish, they misbehave primarily in a desperate bid for attention from their self-absorbed parents. Alex and Elizabeth were excellent in the show I attended, and their professionalism and talent are remarkable!

The supporting cast is also extraordinarily good: George Banks (Matt Ablan) and Winifred Banks (Chelsea Herrema) have lovely solos and fascinating back stories the musical provides where the film does not. Allyson Paris doubles as the poor Bird Woman whose song "Feed the Birds" literally moved me to tears, and the comically wretched Miss Andrews, who tormented George Banks as a child. Joshua Regan plays a lonely statue, Neleus, whose greatest wish, like Michael's, is to be able to connect with his father, and leads a lovely light ballet sequence (with Muses Lindsey Furness and Maddie Garbaty) in "Jolly Holiday", as well as the creepy dream sequence in which the childrens' toys animate and threaten harm for their cruelty. An exceptionally expressive dancer, it is impossible to tear your eyes off him.

Mary Lohman's choreography is toe-tapping and high-flying and the ensemble dances up a storm. They make use of the full stage as well as bringing the show into the audience in "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," a real crowd-pleaser, but the tap dancing "Step in Time" is the true show-stopper, spectacular in its precision and presentation.

The production value of the show is extremely high and while the performances are significant and striking, what makes this show truly extraordinary is the technical and artistic excellence that bring it to life. The craftsmanship and attention to detail can be easily seen in the elegant costume design, courtesy of the powerhouse team of Robert A. Fowle and Kelly Lucas. Set designer and scenic artist David Len has outdone himself, creating elaborate and strikingly beautiful backdrops that transport you to another place and time. In combination with Catherine Marlett Dreher's expert lighting, there are few things so beautiful as the rooftops of London, backlit by hundreds of stars, except perhaps the steps of St. Paul's Cathedral which is so realistic, the painted backdrop could be a photograph.

I often found myself laughing at the sheer cheek inherent in the production, and in Disney style, many jokes are intentionally too tall for children. Lovers of the classic film will find plenty of familiar tunes and imagery, yet there are new songs and scenes which enhance the "practically perfect" original music and add emotional depth to the story as they explore the foundations of a troubled family. This seems to be added specifically for the adults, and admittedly, the storyline isn't completely engaging from beginning to end. While Penelope Notter does an excellent job of keeping the fun level high, rather than allowing the vain and somewhat sanctimonious nanny from becoming too preachy, children may have a difficult time staying fixated on the stage throughout the entire 2 hour 30 minute running time. I recommend spending the extra money to get seats up close to the action, which will keep them enraptured with special effects and stage magic. It is truly heartwarming to see so many children being treated to the magic of live theatre, and this show is an excellent introduction, to show what a live performance can be.

With Mary Poppins, Civic Theatre has found a dramatic fountain of youth that will make grown-ups feel like a kid again, where the moral of the story is "If you reach for the heavens, you get the stars thrown in," since, as Mary's finale tells us, "Anything can happen if you let it."

Original music and lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman; new songs and additional music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe; book by Julian Fellowes, based on the stories of P. L. Travers and the Walt Disney film; Directed by Penelope Notter, Music Directed by Charles Hutchins, Choreography by Mary Lohman. Presented by Grand Rapids Civic Theatre; (616) 222-6650. Running time of 2 hours, 30 minutes. Playing Wed. - Sat. at 7:30pm, Sat. and Sun. matinee at 2pm, through December 14th.

WITH

Matt Ablan (George Banks), Nick Altena (Michael Banks), Morgan Anding (Miss Lark/Ensemble), Alyssa Bauer (Mary Poppins), Jon Calkins (Park Keeper/Ensemble), Logan Dolence (Sweep/Ensemble), Elizabeth Foster (Jane Banks), Lindsey Furness (Muse/Ensemble), Maddie Garbaty (Muse/Ensemble), Maura Gill (Annie/Miss Smythe/Ensemble), Chelsea Herrema (Winifred Banks), Casey Michael Johnson (Robertson Ay/Ensemble), Christine Koorndyk (Katie Nana/Mrs. Corry), Mieke Moll (Glamorous Doll/Ensemble), Jason T. Morrison (Policeman/Northbrook/Ensemble), Allyson Paris (Bird Woman/Miss Andrew), Kylie C. Piette (Mrs. Brill), Steve Place (Admiral Boom/Chairman of the Bank), Joshua Regan (Neleus/Valentine/Ensemble), William Schutte (Bert), Trevor Lee Straub (VonHussler/Bear/Ensemble), Alex Sullivan (Michael Banks), Kayla VanderLaan (Fannie/Ensemble), Abbie Westers (Jane Banks)


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