DTW's Mary Poppins is Practically Perfect!
One of the most enjoyable treats of this holiday season is the Desert Theatreworks (DTW) production of Mary Poppins, wrapping up its successful run this weekend. As Mary herself would say, it's practically perfect in every way!
There is of course a slight concern that the stage production won't live up to the classic Disney movie, but those worries are put to rest upon DTW vet Michelle Mendoza's first entrance as the world's favorite nanny. This might be sacrilege, but I think I found her even more convincing than Dame Julie as the disciplinarian who always has a twinkle of mischief in her eye. This is surely the role Mendoza was born to play.
Equally charming as Bert, the somewhat magical chimneysweep, is James Owens. His character and enjoyable singing voice make us happy each time he returns to the stage, and he and Mary seem to share a conspiratorial history.
The Banks family, who employ Mary Poppins, are a lot of fun. Michael Pacas as the often befuddled banker dad, Katrina Dixon as the peacemaker mom, and Tess Phillips-Martinez and Hank Binnie as Jane and Michael Banks, the terrors whom no other nannies could tame, left me smiling crazily in almost every scene. Note, Miracle Franco and Brayden Gravdahl play the children in some performances.
The large cast was uniformly excellent, with special note of veteran character ladies Daniela Ryan as Mrs. Brill, the maid; Karen Schmitt as the nanny-from-hell who is brought in to replace Mary Poppins; and Laurie Holmes as the Bird Woman, who brings tears with her one song.
Choreographer Stacy Casaluci coaxed some amazing dance numbers out of the young ensemble - especially the incredibly lively "Step in Time" with a stage full of chimney sweeps leaping and cavorting with unbridled energy. Musical Director Don Kelly also brought great singing levels to songs that we all know so well, we would accept nothing less!
Daniel Gray's set design was a delight, with a large rounded proscenium letting us imagine the whole story was unfolding in a snow globe. The images were enhanced by Nick Wass's imaginative projections, helping set the location and often adding an extra level of movement. And the magic is helped along with Phil Murphy's always-excellent lighting design, at one point letting us believe (sort of) that Mary Poppins was flying, with umbrella in hand.
The rest of the cast was always energetic and convincing, with a special shout-out to Trevin Ortega's dancing. The greatest compliment I can give to the extensive technical crew was that I was not conscious of their contributions. I could always hear, always see, always knew where the characters were, and I didn't spot a flaw in any of those areas. Kudos to Technical Supervisor Tessa Walker and her army of helpers.
The performance actually started with a collection of non-traditional Christmas songs performed by Kids Works, the training arm of Desert Theatreworks. Wow! I was blown away by their skills in singing, dancing, and bringing character to their performance. It will be fun to watch these kids growing and taking more roles on the mainstage (a couple of them were actually in Mary Poppins).
Mary Poppins only has one more weekend at the Indio Performing Arts Center, and a couple of performances are sold out, but it is worth making an effort to get a ticket, whatever it takes. This show is one that the entire family can enjoy together. Tickets and further information are available at www.dtworks.org.
Photo by Paul Hayashi