BWW REVIEW: Gail Bennett Leads Ogunquit's MARY POPPINS in the Most Delightful Way
A musical based on the stories of P. L. Travers and the Walt Disney film; original music and lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman; book by Julian Fellowes; new songs an additional music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe; co-created by Cameron Mackintosh; directed by Shaun Kerrison; choreography by Lisa Stevens; music direction by Jonathan Parks; costume design, Rachel Berchtold and Dustin Cross; lighting design, Richard Latta; set design, Christine Peters; sound design, Eric Martin and Jeremy Oleksa; technical direction, Geof Dolan; hair design, Britt Griffith and Trent Pcenicni; production stage manager, David Apichell; Flying by Foy
Cast in Order of Appearance:
Bert, Tony Mansker; George Banks, Jonathan Rayson; Winifred Banks, Christiane Noll; Jane Banks, Siara Carrillo Tracey; Michael Banks, Joseph Hall; Katie Nana, Ashlea Potts; Policeman, Park Keeper, Northbrook, Clay Stefanki; Miss Lark, Kelly Marteney; Admiral Boom, Bank Chairman, John O'Creagh; Mrs. Brill, Mary VanArsdel; Robertson Ay, Anthony ChristIan Daniel; Mary Poppins, Gail Bennett; Neleus, Valentine, Tanner Wilson; Miss Smythe, Daryl Getman; Von Hussler, Jake Primmerman; Bird Woman, Miss Andrew, Sandy Rosenberg; Mrs. Corry, Lisa Donmall-Reeve; Fannie, Timothy Grady; Annie, Ashley Marinelli
Performances and Tickets:
Now through August 30, Ogunquit Playhouse, 10 Main Street (Route 1), Ogunquit, ME; tickets start at $39 and are available online at www.ogunquitplayhouse.org or by calling the Box Office at 207-646-5511.
Ogunquit Playhouse in Ogunquit, Maine is on a roll, following its thrilling, record-breaking production of Billy Elliot with another beloved British musical import, Disney and Cameron Mackintosh's MARY POPPINS. Featuring a terrific cast, crisp, thoughtful direction by Shaun Kerrison, and energetic choreography by Lisa Stevens, this MARY POPPINS is - yes, let's just say it and get it over with - practically perfect in every way.
Gail Bennett is positively luminous as the mysterious, no-nonsense nanny whose loving determination and carpetbag full of tricks bring joy back into the lives of the regimented Banks family. With a whimsical smile and a knowing twinkle in her eye, Bennett's Mary is both frustrating and fascinating to the children Jane and Michael and their parents George and Winifred. Bennett tempers Mary's matter-of-fact self-confidence with a hint of tender playfulness, rendering her ego and eccentricities simultaneously infuriating and utterly charming. Her wit and wisdom are thoroughly disarming. She may as well hand out business cards that read, "Resistance is futile."
For a good long while, though, the Banks family members do try to resist the unorthodox child-rearing methods of Mary Poppins. Children Jane (a strident Siara Carrillo Tracey) and Michael (a slightly cynical Joseph Hall) are not easily won over by their "Jolly Holiday" in the park with Mary and her chimney sweep friend Bert (an endearing Tony Mansker). Nor do they succumb to the unexpectedly delicious flavors that Mary has added to their usually vile-tasting medicine via "A Spoonful of Sugar." Their emotionally distant father (a stern but likable Jonathan Rayson) and subdued and dutiful mother (the shimmering Christiane Noll) - along with a string of ogre-like nannies previously hired to maintain "precision and order" in the Banks household - have made them jaded and wary of anyone offering hope and fun. The child inside each of them has been extinguished, and Mary realizes that her charges won't be able to embrace happiness until their father's youthful spark is reignited, too.
Enter George's childhood nanny nemesis the terrifying Miss Andrew (Sandy Rosenberg in a bravura performance reminiscent of the Wicked Witch of the West). When Miss Andrew menaces the entire household with "Brimstone and Treacle," George regresses to the cowering schoolboy who can't get away from her fast enough. Finding himself alone in the park, with time to reflect on his career and parenting choices, he rediscovers the pure magic that can be found in simple toys and joys.
Rayson makes George's transformation from disciplinarian to loving family man believable and quite moving, softening his ramrod straight spine and letting his worldly cares melt away from his furrowed brow once he realizes what is truly important to him. Noll is equally enchanting as the once meek wife who gains confidence and vigor, slowly daring to assert her love and support as she learns to stand beside and not behind her husband. Both have glorious voices which Open Windows into their hearts as they sing "Being Mrs. Banks" and "A Man Has Dreams." They bring depth and honest emotion to characters that could easily be played one-dimensionally.
Mansker's Bert is also a fully fleshed human being. In addition to singing and dancing up a storm and serving as the story's narrator, he also wears his love for Mary visibly on his sleeve. His and Bennett's scenes together practically combust from the warmth between them. Their big musical numbers are infused with an unspoken understanding that each "Step in Time" may be their last.
And what musical numbers they are! Mansker, Bennett and company send waves of pure joy through the theater as they deliver The Sherman Brothers' familiar classics all the while frolicking through Stevens' lively choreography. "Let's Go Fly a Kite" literally soars, and the chorus of limber and athletic chimney sweeps never miss a beat as they accelerate through the exhilarating rooftop ballet "Step in Time." The design team joins in the fun, too, turning "Jolly Holiday" and "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" into Technicolor carnivals.
The inspirational new song "Anything Can Happen" by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe suggests perhaps a heavenly purpose for Mary's intervention in the Banks household. Drawn in the Disney film as an enigmatic figure whose arrival and departure seem a bit arbitrary, here Mary has the aura of a quirky guardian angel. As a result, her umbrella-powered flights feel both magical and divine.
Sound glitches and an overly loud orchestra during the opening night performance made it difficult to understand some of the dialog and lyrics. The children, especially, were virtually unintelligible, their accents swallowed by poor enunciation. The numerous special effects were executed without a hitch, however. No doubt the few noticeable kinks will be resolved with additional performances.
MARY POPPINS THE MUSICAL is a very entertaining mix of Disney sugar and author P. L. Travers salt. There's enough whimsy for children and substance for adults, and this Ogunquit production gets the balance just right. It's sweet without being syrupy and inspirational without being preachy. Its timeless messages of love, family and faith go down in the most delightful way.
PHOTOS BY GARY NG: Joseph Hall as Michael Banks, Gail Bennett as Mary Poppins, Siara Carrillo Tracey as Jane Banks and Tony Mansker as Bert; Gail Bennett as Mary Poppins, Joseph Hall as Michael Banks, Siara Carrillo Tracey as Jane Banks, and Christiane Noll as Winifred Banks; Gail Bennett, Tony Mansker and the company of MARY POPPINS; Tony Mansker and company; Siara Carrillo Tracey, Christiane Noll, Jonathan Rayson as George Banks, Joseph Hall and Gail Bennett