BWW Reviews: Peabody Opera House Presents Charming Production of MARY POPPINS
The touring production of Mary Poppins that's currently gracing the stage of the Peabody Opera House is "practically perfect", featuring eye-popping special effects, a glorious set, and terrific performances that manage to capture the spirit of the 1964 Disney film, as well as the P.L. Travers books that inspired it. While some of the more beloved elements from the movie are noticeably absent, they've been replaced with sequences that are every bit as magical and engaging. Though the staging is a bit cramped, this is a spectacular show that appeals to both children and adults. And, I should know because I brought along my six-year old son, and he loved it.
After a succession of nannies take their leave of the Banks home and its dysfunctional inhabitants, they're left at loose ends, with only the housekeeping staff left to look after the children. But, a discarded advert the kids concoct requesting someone special to come along brings Mary Poppins to the rescue. Her unique style of governing brightens this otherwise gloomy household. But, when she senses that she's not appreciated, she abruptly abandons the family, allowing the "holy terror" known as Miss Andrew to take charge. Naturally, she eventually returns, insinuating her sunny disposition into the proceedings in a way that brings all matters to a happy conclusion.
Rachel Wallace is charming and disarming as Mary, and her sweet voice fits this material like a glove. She's well matched with Case Dillard as Bert, who narrates the tale as well as providing a presence as a sort of guardian angel in his occupation as chimney sweep. Dillard anchors the show with his good-natured humor and affable antics, and shows off his dancing skills with the gravity-defying show-stopper, "Step in Time".
Michael Dean Morgan and Elizabeth Broadhurst do fine work as George and Winifred Banks, respectively. Both characters are stuck in ruts that are driving a wedge between them and their children, and the transformation that occurs as a result of Mary's influence is well played. Broadhurst reveals the depth of her dissatisfaction during the wistful number "Being Mrs. Banks", while Morgan laments that "A Man Has Dreams". Marissa Ackerman and Zachary Mackiewicz (played on alternate evenings by Cherish Myers and Zach Timson, respectively) are splendid as their children, Jane and Michael.
A very strong supporting cast includes: Q. Smith displaying an impressive vocal range during "Brimstone and Treacle", as the evil Miss Andrew; Con O'Shea -Creal as the lonely Bird Woman; and a host of colorful characters that are all warmly realized by this talented ensemble.
The original and familiar tunes of Richard and Robert Sherman mesh seamlessly with the new material created by composers George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, and it's all lushly orchestrated and performed. Additionally, Julian Fellowes has crafted a book that incorporates bits plucked from the movie as well as from Travers' original stories. This intermingling of the old with the new is surprisingly refreshing.
Richard Eyre's direction keeps the action moving along at a nice pace, with nary a lull to be found. He's aided in his directorial efforts by Matthew Bourne, who also handles the sparkling choreography. Bourne even gives "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" an added wrinkle as the actors playfully depict each letter of the word as they spell it out. Their efforts are nearly dwarfed by Bob Crowley's stunning scenic design and costuming. The house at Cherry Tree Lane is a marvel of ingenuity, whether opening up to reveal the meticulous details of its Victorian era interior, or twisting around to show us the kitchen. Natasha Katz also contributes a wonderfully clever lighting scheme that's as flashy and ingenious as any modern concert you'd attend.