BWW Review: Mercury's Spartan, but Enchanting MARY POPPINS
There's something about Mary.
How else can I explain why Mercury Theater Chicago's production of Disney's MARY POPPINS -with its sparse and Spartan sets and an ensemble cast noticeably playing multiple roles - still manages more than enough magic to warrant buying a ticket?
There's something about Mary. Or, perhaps more accurately, this Mary. As Great Britain's most famous au pair, Nicole Armold possesss a lovely, clarion voice. Her Mary is charming and adorable while retaining a bit of an edge. She is kind or strict when she needs to be and absolutely does not suffer fools gladly, putting both parent and child in their places as needed. It's a performance that is a closer hue to the character as she appears in P.L. Travers' original works.
As the chimney sweep Bert, Matthew Crowle also turns in a Broadway-caliber performance. He shows off nimble footwork in "Step in Time" and interjects so much infectious joy into the role, that you can't help but smile.
Playing Mary's charges Jane and Michael Banks on the evening I caught the show, Sage Harper and Casey Lyons neither overact or over emote as many child actors often do. Both offer mature performances in which their characters are sweet and never cloying.
Holly Stauder also excels in two roles -the Bird Lady and Poppins' nemesis Miss Andrew. . Miss Andrew is the polar opposite to everything that Mary stands for. Her performance of "Brimstone and Treacle" is perhaps the best I have ever seen. It never descends into the level of a cartoon villain.
Cory Goodrich has managed to create a bit of a niche with her sensitive portrayals of motherly figures (Carol Brady in THE BARDY BUNCH and Mother in RAGTIME to name a few) and she is in familiar territory here as Winifred Banks. It still ends up being a nuanced performance, in part to her rendition of "Being Mrs. Banks." The song is not very far off from the sentiment expressed in "Back to Before" (from RAGTIME) and Goodrich turns it into a powerhouse affirmation of feminine strength and character.
As her husband George Banks, Kevin McKillip undergoes a Scrooge-like transformation from a rigid, authoritative father to child-like dad. It isn't a gradual change (much like with Scrooge), but it works.
Leah Morrow also delights with her very Irish take on letter and conversation seller Mrs. Corry.
Broadway World Chicago award-winning choreographer manages to create some magical moments on Mercury's tiny stage -most notably with the rousing " Step In Time" the jubilant "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious."
Rachel Boylan's ornate costumes offer eye candy even when Adam Veness' minimalist set designs do not. The Chimney Sweeps' stovetop hats were an especially clever design.
And there's quite a bit of actual magic in this production, courtesy of magic consultant Neil Tobin. In particular, his work in "A Spoonful of Sugar" delighted younger folks around me.
The direction from L. Walter Stearns could be tightened a smidgen (particularly in the first act when things seem to drag anytime there is a set change).
Families are likely to find this MARY POPPINS practically perfect, despite these minor quibbles.
MARY POPPINS runs through May 28 at the Mercury Theater Chicago, 3745 N. Southport. Tickets $30-$65. 773.325.1700 or www.mercurytheaterchicago.com.