BWW Reviews: What a Jolly Holiday with MARY POPPINS
What better way to inaugurate a theater than to put on a show with the pizazz of Mary Poppins. A name made famous by Walt Disney who based his film off of the written work of P.L. Travers. The Broadway musical is a crowd pleaser for certain with a great deal of help from a cast phenomenally chosen to introduce The Wisconsin Dells to its newest, and extremely worthwhile, attraction - The Palace Theater.
Mary Poppins focuses on the Banks family and their need for a proper nanny. Children Michael and Jane had been persecuting previous nannies which left their parents in a bind. When Mary Poppins appears - becoming everything the family could have hoped for. Stringent, strict, and silly, Mary shows the Banks children that the right attitude paired with some hard work can make life far more rewarding.
Oddly enough the producers (and owners) of the Palace Theater, Anthony J. and Joseph J. Tomaska, took on a bit of the role of Mary as well in their own way. The Tomaskas whipped the abandoned theatre space into shape after years of its lying empty to create something even more spectacular in the process. Their entrepreneurial venture has certainly met with a lucrative first undertaking.
November 29th was a night filled with childlike wonderment, joy, and the spirit of the holidays; Chuck Kadig's design of the Banks' estate surrounded by silhouettes of the characters to come met diners as they entered the theatre. Guests were quickly greeted by polite servers, provided their separate courses as they patiently awaited Mary's arrival. The dinner, artfully prepared by Giles Svehlek who refers to himself as 'Chef Guy', was divine - simple in its nature but fitting the show's setting and period.
And what followed said dinner was "Practically Perfect".
As the show began the anticipation for what was to come grew. Having never seen the staged production of the Disney classic before, I admittedly was not sure how aspects of it would be handled, but if the purpose is to transport the audience into a past full of whimsy, they certainly accomplished that.
Jessica Lorion commanded the stage as a forceful, but motherly, Poppins. Her voice soaring, as she did through the air, into the space around her - Lorion's graceful performance of the role provided the genuine affection that audiences expect. Her no nonsense approach when combined with the character's hints of imagination could give dear Julie Andrews a run for her money. Frankly, Lorion was born to play the role.
Haugh's co-star Kyle Szen as Bert was the quintessential dichotomy of youthful naiveté that is necessary for the two drastically different characters to play off of one another. Szen's talent for dance, charm, as well as old fashioned nonsense made him a prime candidate for the role. Bert may not be the brightest of characters, but Szen's interpretation of him certainly made him the most charming.
Arguably, however, some of the highest praise should be given to the Banks children. Matthew Robert Powell and Bailey Magnuson (playing Michael and Jane respectively) brought everything they had to the stage on Saturday night; which, for two young actors, is a great deal. Powell and Magnuson held focus whenever either of them was performing. The show would not have the same response without the authenticity that child actors provide. Both Powell and Magnuson have been blessed with incredible vocal talents at such young ages as well as the ability to hold their own alongside adults with far more experience. But, based on their performance during the show, the two are certainly on the road to be those professional actors in their adulthoods as well.
To take a page from Mary's book, nothing can be perfect. While the show had captivated its audience, it also had a moment of deep frustration. Director Marc Robin may have been attempting to create a sense of eccentricity with the role of Mrs. Cory, but the outcome was more irritating than whimsical. Her ever changing accents made her portrayal impossible to understand. Every word spoken by the high pitched bringer of letters was lost until she finally settled into a British dialect halfway through the song "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious". It's also entirely possible that the issue was created by Lindsey Austin, though her impeccable presentation of Mrs. Andrew would argue otherwise.
Considering that that one moment of the show is the only one that truly took an audience member out of the fantasy, however, is proof that Robin has a knack for direction. Taking an undeniably talented ensemble cast of this magnitude and creating a cohesive unit is no easy task. Robin's creation of scenes of living statues, kite flying, and Banks family shenanigans are what make the show so magical - that and Michael Miller's causing accidental mischief as the Banks' man servant Robertson Ay- bring audiences back in time to their childhoods once more.
Palace Theater's first production is a show that will bring delight to any family who gets the opportunity to take part in its enchantment. Though it lacks the tap dancing penguins from the original film the scores of dancers wobbling like the tuxedoed bird will more than suffice. Under the direction of Robin and the watchful eyes of the Tomaskas, Mary Poppins will continue to delight through its January closing.
Mary Poppins and the Palace, in their debuts off of the Wisconsin Dells Parkway, are "practically perfect and I hope it should stay that way."