Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

BWW REVIEWS: MARY POPPINS at William Allen Middle School

Stephen Gionta and Cassandra Moore

The Moorestown Theater Company has pulled out all the stops in providing a full-scale, high-energy and large-cast production of the beloved classic Mary Poppins. The result is an astonishingly good and downright magical extravaganza suitable for all ages. Premiering at the William Allen Middle School in Moorestown, New Jersey, the musical with music and lyrics by Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman is based on the popular children's book series by P.L. Travers and the 1964 Disney masterpiece, fusing and omitting elements from each to adapt to the stage. New songs and additional music and lyrics were provided by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. Directed by Mark Morgan, who is also the company's Producing Artistic Director, and produced by Morgan and his wife Carol Ann Murray (who also is the Props Manager), MTC's current incarnation boasts a whopping 71 cast members, over a dozen crew members and a 15-piece orchestra. Assistant Producer Annete De Rosa manages to take tickets, appear onstage in multiple roles and function as a Production Manager while invaluable contributions are provided by Vocal Director Mark Pinzur, Music Director Beverly Bennett and Costume Designer Thom Sirkot, to name a few.

The sets and costumes, as always, are splendid and first-rate and many delicious visual feats are achieved onstage, such as Poppins famously reproducing all sorts of improbable objects from an empty carpet bag and other special effects. An ambitious 20 scene changes are achieved without the benefit of a revolving stage. When one learns this show was being rehearsed at the same time as their previous production, Disney's The Lion King, Jr. (with 96 cast members!), one wonders how Morgan can make it all work, but the miracle is that he does. He gives the short answer: "We get GREAT people."

Cassandra Moore as Mary Poppins is practically perfect in every way. Not only is she able to hit the high notes required by the songs, but even more importantly, she embodies this proper, charismatic character down to the turned-out shoes and makes you fully believe in a magical nanny who is capable of sorting out even the most tangled lives when she appears at the household of the Banks family at No. 17 Cherry Tree Lane in London. (The buttoned-up Poppins interestingly is the catalyst who "loosens" others.) When Moore is onstage, even when surrounded by the full ensemble, you can't take your eyes off her. Like the sublime Julie Andrews in the Disney masterwork, she exudes a fresher than springtime charm and effortlessness. She has strong support in Stephen Gionta as Bert, the enigmatic chimney sweep and jack of all trades. Gionta has the necessary charisma and ebullient physicality to pull off the role, his impishness an appropriate counterpoint to prim Poppins. Bert is perhaps an even more mysterious character than Mary, in fact, able to metamorphosis into all the various trades he's learned, his past and connection to Poppins unexplained.

Carol Ann Murray, Alex Zambrano, Cassandra Moore, Juliet Morgan and Tyler Conklin.

The other principals include Carol Ann Murphy, a heartfelt Mrs. Winifred Banks who hits her numbers out of the park, and Mark Duffy whose clearly bowed and cheerless Mr. George Banks makes his rebirth even more satisfying. As the children, Juliet Morgan is perfectly cast as Jane Banks, her stoic expression matching her film counterpoint Karen Dotrice while Alex Zambrano is a boisterous, vivid Michael Banks. Among the supporting and bit players are many gems, including a scene-stealing Kelly Heard as Mrs. Brill (one of my favorite characters in the show); Tiffany Sattin as Mrs. Corry; Connell Devery as Von Hussler; Tamara Duffy as the touching Bird Woman; a castor oil-wielding Rosalyn Lawrence as Miss Andrew; and Michelle Parker as Miss Lark who, with very little dialogue, makes a delightful impression. One of my favorite scenes, in fact, involves Miss Lark and an adorable poodle where Mary Poppins is listening to the barking dog, able to understand animals perfectly. The poodle meanwhile was trying to locate the source of the barking offstage. It also contained another of Poppins' many witty lines said to Jane and Michael: "Never interrupt when someone is barking."

Although audiences seemed to eat up the "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" number (which had them clapping in time and like the chicken dance at weddings, should please kids), the best number in the show, to my mind, was "Step in Time." Set on the rooftops of London, visually it's stunning with chimneysweeps in black with red accents while leads stand out in red, green and white. The sweeping (no pun intended) ensemble tap number, complete with acrobatics, is a showstopper. Gionta, in particular, shines. The large scale cast, in fact, features dozens of talented kids who sing, dance (including fouettes), and do acrobatics onstage.

This brings me to the book, the original P.L. Travers source and the one by Julian Fellowes. There are many reasons why a work endures through the generations. Like The Wizard of Oz, Mary Poppins has ageless, iconic relevance. First, Poppins has endless witty and apt lines. "One thing I'll make very clear," she tells stuffy Mr. Banks when he demands an explanation. "I never explain anything." And when interviewing for the position, Poppins hilariously tells Mrs. Banks, "You'll do." Aside from being about family, it is about keeping the wonder of childhood alive, which is, after all, the human spirit.

Like the titular character, MTC's Mary Poppins is practically perfect. The energy of the huge cast, spanning actors of all levels, is moving and magical. Afterwards one leaves the theater, wanting to see it again.

Mary Poppins continues playing July 23, 24 and 25 at 7pm and July 25 at 2pm. It is split between "Black" and "Gold" casts, Moorestown's school colors, and the version reviewed here is the "Gold" cast.

Related Stories
Young Actors Launch House — Post Covid Kick-off? Photo
Did the pandemic put a damper on your film acting career plans? The Actor’s Launch House in Los Angeles is here to help you pick up right where you left off…. but under one roof and with more motivation than ever!

From This Author - Donna Marie Nowak

Interview: April Mae Iorio of APRIL MAE AND THE JUNE BUGSInterview: April Mae Iorio of APRIL MAE AND THE JUNE BUGS
October 5, 2022

April Mae and the June Bugs bring their unique Ameripolian roots music to a spooktacular and bewitching 'Boogie BOO! Halloween Review' at Studio 67 in Medford, NJ on October 23, 2022 at 7pm!

BWW Interview: Alisa Dupuy of The Ladies of History Historical ProductionsBWW Interview: Alisa Dupuy of The Ladies of History Historical Productions
January 21, 2022

Alisa Dupuy of The Ladies of History Historical Productions is a woman of a thousand faces (and voices) and keeps audiences enthralled with her one-woman enactments.

BWW Interview: Gwen Berger And Karen Vitco at Eagles Wing StudioBWW Interview: Gwen Berger And Karen Vitco at Eagles Wing Studio
October 14, 2020

EAGLES WING STUDIO in South Charlotte, NC helps students soar through the gift of musical theater.