BWW Reviews: MARY POPPINS Soars at Ogunquit

August 7
10:18 AM 2014
BWW Reviews: MARY POPPINS Soars at Ogunquit

The Banks family at 17 Cherry Tree Lane is creating their own reality television show in the current production of Mary Poppins at the Ogunquit Playhouse.

The children, Jane (Siara Carrillo Tracey) and Michael (Joseph Hall), just can't seem to keep a nanny in the house. They are conniving little scoundrels with a goal of driving every new nanny out the door from their turn of the century London estate.

Their mother, Winifred (Christiane Noll) is discouraged and frustrated playing the part of the lowly housewife to her strict minded husband, George (Jonathan Rayson), a man who is hardly a father figure and is consumed by his work as a banker where "precision and order" is cherished and the unpredictable rarely happens.

But change is in the wind, at least according to Bert (Tony Mansker), the kind hearted and loveable chimney sweep. An intervention is on the way and her name is Mary Poppins (Gail Bennett).

Being part super hero, part fortune teller, and a strong willed lady, this nanny changes the Banks family forever with her alluring charm, her mystical power, and her ability to sing a song.

If you know the 1964 movie version of Mary Poppins, starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, then you are well prepared for this enchanting evening of entertainment. And even if you don't know the movie, you will be instantly charmed with the memorable tunes, "Chim Chim Cher-ee," "A Spoonful of Sugar," "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," and "Anything Can Happen."

Director, Shaun Kerrison, does an amazing job at pulling all of the elements together to create this stunning and memorable production. It is a massive show to mount and Kerrison manages it all from great onstage work as well as a remarkable cast and powerful orchestra.

The costumes are authentic and, at times outrageous, in a very creative way. They draw together the real world of England at the turn of the last century with a mix of color and comedy. The sets are ever changing and always moving from the expansive family homestead to a nearby London park and on to the cavernous halls of the banking institution. Ogunquit always delivers with stunning sets though this production occasionally stretches its limits for smooth and quiet scene changes.

The musical numbers that incorporate great choreography are engaging and toe tapping, though sometimes uneven with a younger cast of varying talent.

The award for the most fun number of the evening is "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," a tribute to the creation of a ridiculously fictitious word.

The highlight of the evening award goes to "Step in Time," a tribute to chimney sweeps dancing their hearts out on a rooftop.

The least favorite number award goes to "Playing the Game," a sinister tribute to the gruesome destruction that children inflict on their toys. It is a creepy, haunting number that was added to the stage version of the show and seems strangely out of place.

As the lead character, Gail Bennett, an Ogunquit Playhouse alum, owns the role and is the driving force behind this wonderful production. Her voice is impeccable and she performs a wonderfully subtle and underplayed Mary Poppins. She's witty, sarcastic, likeable, mysterious, and stunningly beautiful, all in one breathe. She will charm every person in the audience.

Mansker's job, as Bert the chimney sweep, is equally engaging. As a narrator, street urchin, and regular guy who has an incredible crush on Mary Poppins, Mansker makes the role his own, not a copy cat of the movie or other productions. Mansker is among the most charming actors I've seen play this role.

In their parts as the Banks family, the actors are "practically perfect" in every way. Rayson adeptly makes the transition from distant father to huggable dad while Noll makes the transition from humble housewife to equal partner in the marriage. (By the way, Noll's voice is incredible. I'd love to see her on the Ogunquit stage again.)

Ogunquit Playhouse has a knack for finding extraordinarily talented young actors and they score once again in casting Hall and Tracey as the Banks children. This duo will have amazing careers.

Mary VanArsdel and Anthony Christian Daniel are talented as the domestic help in the Banks home. Sandy Rosenberg portrays both the Bird Woman and the holy terror nanny from hell, Miss Andrew. She nails the latter part with an over the top portrayal and high note vocals that are humanly impossible to hit.

This production has hired Flying By Foy to provide the flying effects that make the magic of Mary Poppins come alive. (This is the same company that had Mary Martin flying onstage in Peter Pan back in 1954.) The most I can say, without breaking the theater critic's pledge not to reveal too much, is that the flying effects for Mary Poppins and the assisted fancy footwork for chimney sweep, Bert, are beyond spectacular and like nothing you've ever seen on, off or over the Ogunquit stage.

Mary Poppins, as you might suspect, is a family friendly show suitable for all ages. Just be aware that with a running time of two hours and forty five minutes with intermission, it is a long stretch for youngsters accustomed to entertainment in smaller doses.

Mary Poppins runs through August 30. Tickets at ogunquitplayhouse.org

Photo provided by Ogunquit Playhouse.

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