BWW Review: Mary Poppins at Theatre Aquarius is the Best Holiday Show of the Season

BWW Review: Mary Poppins at Theatre Aquarius is the Best Holiday Show of the Season

Toronto's best holiday family show is actually in Hamilton at Theatre Aquarius.

It's Disney/Cameron Mackintosh's "Mary Poppins," featuring a stellar cast of Shaw, Stratford and Charlottetown Festival vets. It also stars Broadway vets award-winning Steven Sutcliffe and Chilina Kennedy as the beloved, magical nanny. This fabulous, fun-filled production runs until Dec. 28th.

Although it runs just under three hours, it's terrific entertainment for the entire family. Its many special effects are ideal for introducing children to the many wonders of live theatre. (How did Mary get that hat stand into her handbag anyway?) Literally anything can happen and it does as statues come alive and characters fly.

"Mary Poppins" also reminds parents of this delightful musical's many entertaining songs - perhaps from their own childhood -- from the beloved, up-tempo toe tapping numbers "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" and "Step in Time" to the joyous, carefree "Let's Go Fly a Kite," the infectious "A Spoonful of Sugar," the wistful "Chim Chim Cheree" and the heartfelt though plaintive, "Feed the Birds."

This talented cast sings all songs vigorously and beautifully, guided by the baton of musical director Michael Barber. I did miss a full pit orchestra, but the septet does full justice to Richard M. Sherman and Robert B Sherman's classic score.

BWW Review: Mary Poppins at Theatre Aquarius is the Best Holiday Show of the Season

Moreover, dramatically, director Ron Ulrich gives this "Mary Poppins" an edge. I've seen the movie and this musical before, but I've never paid much attention to the sub-plot about Mr. Banks and his travails with financial industry superiors. He is the father of the children Jane and Michael, and is played here by the gifted Steven Sutcliffe. He is the winner of a 1998 Broadway Theatre World Award for his portrayal of radical, revolutionary Younger Brother in "Ragtime," which received four 1998 Tony Awards. Recently, he appeared with Brent Carver and others, in Soulpepper's brilliant play about Glenn Gould titled, simply, "Glenn."

In previous productions I've seen, I've regarded Mr. Banks' scenes as filler between the big production numbers. But Ulrich's direction and Sutcliffe's performance create a dramatic arc as Banks' character develops from a work-obsessed prig to a man full of life who embraces his humanity.

You see, perhaps thanks to the movie "Saving Mr. Banks" -- that makes this observation as well -- this is a family in crisis. Perhaps Mary Poppins arrives not to care exclusively for the children, but also to care for their father and help the family learn how to love one another again. Jane and Michael, as well as their mother, are starved for their father's love and affection. Sutcliffe's depth of moving, dramatic work ... and sense of playful humor ... give Banks' redemption a gravitas and rebirth that is joyful as he discovers again the carefree joys of childhood.

Now, the character of Mary Poppins has always been a mystery. Where did she come from? What were her previous positions? In this production, you might say she was a teenager on the West Side of Manhattan, a devout Christian who once served as the wife of an Argentine dictator. That is true when considering a few of the roles Chilina Kennedy has played in her distinguished career to date: Maria in "West Side Story" and the title role in "Evita," both at the Stratford Festival, and Mary Magdalene in "Jesus Christ Superstar" in Stratford (the hit of the 2011 season), California's La Jolla Playhouse and on Broadway where it was nominated for a Tony for Best Musical Revival.

Her performance as Mary Poppins is a subtle one as she arrives and begins to astonish, matter-of-factly, the entire household with tricks and magic that will have kids of all ages wondering "How'd they DO that?"

Yet, Kennedy elegantly flaunts her triple threat talents when she cuts loose, especially in the sensational Act 2 number "Step in Time."

She has a lovely voice that brings new life to such standards as "A Spoonful of Sugar." Her numbers with Bert the Chimney Sweep, played by Mike Jackson, are charming. Their voices blend well, especially in the rousing Act One sesquipedalian number "Supercalifragilisticesxpialidocious" that sees the stage explode with music and dancing by this very talented cast, all choreographed by Stephen Roberts who did the same for the musical's Broadway national tour. Another favorite number of mine was the rousing ""Let's Go Fly a Kite."

In the supporting cast, Monique Lund, a 10-year veteran with Stratford, is a haunting, lovely Birdwoman who tenderly sings, in her rich, alto voice, my personal favorite, "Feed the Birds." After all these years, it still brings a tear to my eye. The character is a moving reminder of humanity and compassion, personal characteristics that thrive despite her poverty. Here, she plays a pivotal role in Mr. Banks' redemption.

For tickets, visit, call 905-522-7529 (toll free 1-800-465-7529 or visit the Dofasco Centre for the Arts, 190 King William Street, Hamilton.

Photos by Daniel Banko.

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