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BWW Review: Dutch Apple Soars Along With MARY POPPINS

Before there was Gandalf of LORD OF THE RINGS fame, before Harry Potter raised a wand, a woman with a parrot-headed umbrella brought magic to England and then to the world. Writer P.L. Travers, from the depths of her imagination, created that most innocuous-seeming of beings, the English nanny, into a phantasmagorical dispenser of delightfully-flavored tonics, of flying brollies, and of tea on the ceiling (the one scene truly lacking from the current version), known to children everywhere as Mary Poppins. Travers objected to the Walt Disney movie, perhaps the perfect distillation of her books, for reasons apparently connected to her not understanding the truth of her creation (she didn't think that Mary was even mildly magical, despite her amazing abilities). Disney and The Sherman Brothers, creators of the original score and lyrics, brought MARY POPPINS back for Broadway, in a big way.

Now that big magical mystery tour, starring everyone's favorite nanny, is at Dutch Apple under the direction of Ryan Gibbs. Gibbs, former artistic director at Allenberry Playhouse and a frequent stage manager at the Fulton, understands the magic and doesn't try to tamper with it in any way, leaving the amazement free to dazzle the audience.

Everything iconic is here, from Mary's parrot umbrella to Bert's paints and chimney brushes, to colorful kites, to, yes, wonderfully dancing magical park penguins. Julian Fellowes' script is close to the movie version, although one wonders why frazzled mama Mrs. Banks was changed from a suffragette (a movement made up of England's most upper-crust women) to a failed actress (a profession that an aspiring banker almost certainly wouldn't have sought in a spouse back in the day), although the movie never took Mrs. Banks' political aspirations seriously.

Rachel Haber makes a jolly good Mary, all upswept hair, proper decorum, and tonic bottle, but cheery enough to have her spoonful of sugar with each lesson the Banks children (and their parents) need to learn from her. Her squire, the resourceful Bert, is played with true Cockney relish by Chris Duir. Although it's the Banks family's story, the ever-present Bert is in many ways its heart - whether we see him as Mary's best friend forever or her not-quite-suitor - and the focus is often on Duir, whether in Samantha Hewes Cramer's beautifully choreographed "Step in Time" or in his plaintive "Chim Chim Cheree"... or in what must be everyone's favorite scene from the movie, when he and the Banks children go on their "jolly holiday with Mary" in the park. From singing statues to dancing penguins, Gibbs and Cramer have made the film's scene bounce off the screen and into the audience's delighted faces.

Desiree Dillon as Winifred Banks, actress-turned-banker's-wife, is sweet and bewildered by her husband's change from adoring suitor to stuffed-shirt businessman. Her "Being Mrs. Banks" is one of the best renditions this writer has heard, and one can feel that she believes she's a failure because she hasn't become the social success her husband expects. James Taylor Odom, the George Banks of the production, is a true drill sergeant, seeking "precision and order" - and just possibly hiding one of the worst cases of PTSD on earth, caused (in, it turns out, one of the senior bankers at his bank, as well) from being the subject child of the infamously evil Miss Lark, the Nanny from Hell. No wonder poor Mr Banks has issues. Freud would have loved him. The audience loves Odom's delivery of him.

As with all transitions from film to stage (and vice versa), the Shermans had to delete and add some songs to make the score for the stage musical "original". "Cherry Tree Lane" and other additions are delightful, but those of us with strong nostalgia for the Julie Andrews/Dick Van Dyke original may well feel that the rewrite of "Supercalifragilistic" makes for a great dance routine (again kudos to Cramer) but a terrible change in lyrics. Go home and show your children or grandchildren the proper version. Or sing it and teach it to them. They have a right to know.

Gibbs and Cramer have created a close replica of the Broadway version of the stage musical, with a few judicious edits (the "mistreated toys" scene from Broadway is slightly cut here, which is for the best). This is what MARY POPPINS should look like and feel like, and it's possibly, thanks to Prather resources, Sobon's choreography, and some fine casting, the single most beautiful piece he's directed in the region. We need more, much more. His understanding that some shows need as little and as gentle handling as possible is the perfect move for a show like this, that has so many emotional attachments to it by so many people.

At Dutch Apple in Lancaster. Next up is Yeston and Kopit's PHANTOM, which, unlike MARY POPPINS, is not the same as the Broadway PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, but is a more intimate telling of the same Gaston Leroux novel. Visit www.dutchapple.com for tickets and information.


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From This Author Marakay Rogers