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BWW Review: The Freeland Center returns to Cherry Tree Lane with MARY POPPINS

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Mary Poppins is a nostalgic return to theatre with memorable numbers and well known characters.

BWW Review: The Freeland Center returns to Cherry Tree Lane with MARY POPPINS

Mary Poppins: The Broadway Musical by Cameron Mackintosh and Julian Fellowes (Downton Abbey) is a delightful stage version of the beloved Disney movie. Directed by Chapman Shields, the Freeland Center for the Performing Arts in Bristow, OK presents this musical as part of their Onstage at the Freeland series.

The large cast of mostly (15+) Bristow community members shows up and proves that "anything can happen if you let it". Smart moves are made by Shields and company for casting professional actors in the two lead roles. Brooke Melton as Mary and Gavin Thomas Drew as Bert elevate the show from fun community event to professional theatre production. Melton is crisp and proper, practically perfect as the magical nanny. She delivers her lines of dialogue with a mischievous shoulder shimmy, a cute gesture that adds personality to this iconic character. Drew as Bert is charmingly Cockney, with the strongest accent of any cast member. He's the fourth-wall breaker and narrator, and he dances and sings with unending energy.

Lauren Reece as Mrs. Banks and Ethan Kel Hunter as Mr. Banks are dynamic and believable. Reece has a remarkable voice and a captivating stage presence. Hunter is stern and moving, serving as the turning point for the family. Reece remains the gracious wife, even when her husband is less forgiving. Likewise, Hunter learns to rediscover the childhood he lost.

Choreography by Kara Stagier is robust and uses the stage well, filling it with one iconic number after the other. The tap dancing is missing in "Step in Time", arguably the most breathtaking number in the Broadway version. Another letdown comes in Act II, the would-be moment of magical discovery when Mary Poppins opens her umbrella and flies away. But in this production, Mary doesn't fly. This scene is the reason people come to this show, and it's disappointing that this production doesn't attempt it. Budget and time constraints could be a factor, but it's worth it to go to whatever lengths necessary to commit to this scene and do it correctly.

Mary Poppins is nostalgic with its musical numbers and the ensemble pulls each one off with a smile, recreating memorable moments and sparking new ones. Tunes like "A Spoonful of Sugar" and "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" are brought to life on stage, and this cast is lively and fresh. Carmen Bruner is a Showstopper in "Feed The Birds", and Drew shines in "Let's Go Fly a Kite". Music Direction by Melissa Hall is polished. All the musical numbers, both familiar and new, are immensely enjoyable and virtually flawless.

Dakota Norman is striking as Von Hussler and Miss Andrew. The Banks children are portrayed with poise by Annie Grizzle as Jane and Wake Tidwell as Michael. Autumn Manus is zany and animated as Mrs. Brill, stealing every scene. Stacey Shields is strong and vibrant as Talking Shop owner Mrs. Corry.

Completing the hard-working cast is Mackinsey Darrough as Katie Nanna & Nelus, Gary Daughtry as Parker Keeper, Jaxie Sargent as Miss Lark, Keith Symcox as Admiral Boom, Hunter Remington as Robertson Aye, and Aaliyah Givings as Queen Victoria. John Tidwell is the Bank Chairman, Jessica Colbert is Miss Smythe, Patrick Lupp is North Brooke, Carly Junod is Fannie, Kendal Hurley is Annie, and Gabrielle Wilson is a Chimney Sweep.

Mary Poppins is a triumphant feat of musical theatre, and it's not without hard work and dedication that this theatre company accomplishes it. It's two solid hours of large scale musical numbers that are well known to every person in the audience. There are big shoes to fill, and this cast fills them in the most delightful way. This production is truly an example of what can be accomplished when a community comes together with one common goal. What a lovely community it must be! Bristow, Oklahoma is putting themselves on the map.

Disney musicals never fail to touch our hearts, teach us something about loving each other, and remind us that life is more exciting and worthwhile when we look for the little things. Childhood is magical, and after a few minutes with Mary Poppins and The Banks family, we all feel like kids again.

Mary Poppins: The Broadway Musical closed June 26th, 2021. For more information on the Freeland Center's upcoming productions, visit The Freeland Center on Facebook.


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