BWW Review: MARY POPPINS at SF Playhouse
There's magic brewing at the Bank's home on 17 Cherry Tree Lane courtesy of the new enchanting nanny Mary Poppins, who as her name suggests, 'pops in' and 'pops out' of her wards lives in SF Playhouse's delightful production of the award-winning Broadway musical based on the similarly titled Mary Poppins children's books by P. L. Travers and the 1964 Disney film.
Appealing to the family audience, Mary Poppins provides a sweet morality tale of a nanny teaching two mischievous children to behave while healing the dysfunctional wounds in the family. A musical fantasy, the show has a strong score featuring well-known songs from the Academy Award-winning 1964 Disney film like "Spoonful of Sugar", "Chim-Chim-Cheree", "Feed the Birds" and "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious". The solid ensemble cast is up to the task of both singing and dancing to Kimberly Richards lovely choreography.
El Beh is cast in the lead role, and her Mary Poppins is not the sweet, lovable Mary of Julie Andrews' style. Beh, who wears a smart pant suit, is more stern, self-assured and dominant in her treatment of both the neglected children and their parents George and Winifred. Wiley Naman Strasser is Bert, the chimney sweep/artist/narrator and is a natural song and dance man.
The musical places a stronger emphasis on the children, Jane (Ruth Keith) and Michael (David Rukin) acting out, which leads directly to "Playing the Game", a creepy number that brings their dolls and toys to life to scold the children for their contemptuous treatment. Strong supporting roles are delivered by local faves Ryan Drummond (George Banks) and Abby Haug (Winifred) as the overly strict, loveless father and the former actress, now overwhelmed mother. Katrina Lauren McGraw steals her scenes as the evil nanny Miss Andrew, full of brimstone and treacle, and the beggar bird woman selling bags of crumbs for tuppence.
Director Susi Damilano delivers the right amount of magical stage effects (endless objects appearing out of Mary's empty carpetbag, a collapsed hutch of dishes that magically rearrange and of course, Mary's flying in and out with her signature umbrella. Musical Director Katie Coleman gets big sound from her 6-piece band, and Abra Berman's costumes are stunning. Patrick Toebe (Lighting Design) and Theodore J. H. Hulsker (Projections) provide the night time rooftop skies above London and the warm interiors of the Banks' home. One of the stars of this production is Nina Ball's wonderful set design that unfolds like pages in a book and swivels on the large roundabout to present the home as well as the park nearby where a large portion of the action occurs.
For a moment at the theatre, Mary Poppins presents a magical world where you know all ends well, hope is renewed and a family recaptures love and purpose; just the sort of encouraging Holiday message we all need.
Mary Poppins continues through December 16th, 2018 at SF Playhouse, 450 Post Street, San Francisco. Tickets are available at www.sfplayhouse.org or by calling (415) 677-9596
Photos by Jessica Palipoli.