BWW Review: TUTS Presents a Practically Perfect MARY POPPINS
High over the rooftops of London, a regal and tidy figure drifts through the fog on a mission to help a family in flux. Her signature umbrella carries her to the Banks' home to set things right, and with a little practicality and a lot of magic she has the power to change the ordinary into the extraordinary.
She is Mary Poppins.
Happily, MARY POPPINS isn't a light-weight Disney venture into the theatre world. It isn't an animated feature-turned-musical. It has a depth that feels organic to the stage, and seems more multi-dimensional than other Disney Broadway shows.
The musical is based on the beloved book series by P.L. Travers and the classic 1964 Disney movie starring Julie Andrews. Julian Fellowes, of Downton Abbey fame, penned the script. Songs by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman are derived from the movie, with new songs by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. With Cameron Mackintosh (Les Miserables, anyone?) as co-creator, how can you go wrong? MARY POPPINS is an imaginative and full-blown theatre experience and Theatre Under The Stars doesn't hold back.
Director and choreographer Linda Goodrich guides a top-tier cast with a Mary Poppins to die for. Christina DeCicco is "practically perfect in every way", from her glorious voice to her witty and prim delivery. You never tire of her singing, and she commits to the role with unwavering energy and focus. Courtney Markowitz plays the lovely but downcast Mrs. Banks, a role that has been changed drastically from the movie version. I missed the kooky Winifred Banks who is wrapped up in the suffragette movement, oblivious to the fact that she is a model subservient wife. But Markowitz is so sympathetic and warm as the more intuitive character that she wins us over with the new incarnation. Markowitz' voice is another gorgeous treat in this production. Jane Blass plays the crusty relic of a nanny, Miss Andrew, adding great creepy fun to the show. Danny Gardner is likably boyish as chimneysweep Bert, and Drew McVety is an astute casting choice to play the dour Mr. Banks. Sean Gaul and Kelly Lomonte play the children, Michael and Jane. Both young actors are self-possessed and confident in their roles, though Miss Lomonte is clearly older than her character, and it didn't surprise me to learn the actress is in her teens.
MARY POPPINS is a larger-than-life production with big production values. Sound designers everywhere should bow to Christopher "Kit" Bond, the master of sound. Even with all the various British accents, everyone was clear as a bell and the many outstanding vocalists were given their due with top notch sound engineering. Scenic designer Timothy R. Mackabee infuses magic into the show with gorgeous sets and backdrops, particularly in the park scene when statues come to life. The show is beautiful to look at and the visual contrasts from scene to scene keep the experience lively and interesting.
Music penned by the Sherman brothers is the most exciting in this show, with "Step In Time" and "Supercalifragileisticexpialidocious" being huge crowd-pleasers. "A Spoonful Of Sugar" is bright and witty with droll humor rounding out the song. Jane whines, "I don't know if I like raspberry cordial," to which Mary Poppins replies, "I don't know if I care." The one song that should be cut is "Playing The Game", during which toys in the nursery become life-sized. It sounds more magical than it is, and I asked my 9 year old how she liked it. "Um, it was okay..." she said. The children sitting around me seemed similarly disaffected. The song doesn't further or deepen the story in any way and the tune is forgettable.
There is, however, plenty of other magical aspects to the show: a flying nanny, dancing statues, a magically renewed kitchen, and an adorable dog, who I'm still not sure was real or not. It's a great show rooted in a beautiful classic story and Theatre under The Stars doesn't disappoint. MARY POPPINS won't be here for long. Get your tickets now before the wind changes.
For tickets, visit www.tuts.com/shows/mary-poppins. MARY POPPINS is at The Hobby Center from March 10 - March 20.
Photo Credit: Christian Brown