MARY POPPINS at Olney Theatre Center is Practically Perfect in Every Way

I don't even remember seeing the cartoon version of MARY POPPINS when it was released. But I did see the Original Broadway Cast, the tour, and the Toby's Dinner Theatre version. I loved them all. So, I did not know what to expect when it was time for the Olney Theatre Company's rendition.

Yes, I've seen the Disney film numerous times. My three grandchildren love it. I wish I could take them all to see this version.

It was thrilling to seeing so many young people at the Saturday matinee we attended. I could not keep my eyes off this adorable 3 and 1/2 year old girl (yes, I asked the mother how old she was) who demonstrated a perpetual smile on her face during the entire show and even tried to sing along.

Olney Associate Artistic Director Jason King Jones has done a masterful job in directing this family fun and entertaining musical for the holiday season. He has established himself as a worthy compliment to OTC Artistic Director Jason Loewith. What a team OTC has developed.

MARY POPPINS has the imprimatur of the author P.L. Travers, Disney, and Producer and Co-Creator, the impresario of our times, Cameron Mackintosh.

This is certainly a "fresh" version of MARY POPPINS. It is much darker than the film in line with the Travers' books. You will hear some new songs by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe (original composers were the Sherman Brothers Richard and Robert), see new characters like the Park Keeper (James Frisby) and Mrs. Corry (Ashleigh King), but may miss Admiral Boom's cannon explosions (and resulting dishes falling in the Banks' home) and the suffragette sash worn by Mrs. Banks "Votes for Women" (played by the talented Eileen Ward). The book is by Julian Fellowes (yes, the one from "Downton Abbey").

It is great to see Karl Kippola (Mr. Banks) back on stage. I recall two of his great performances at Everyman Theatre in ART and OPUS.

Playing the two Banks children Michael and Jane are the talented Tyler Quentin Smallwood and Katharine Ford (who alternate with Henry Mason and Audrey Kilgore).

This version also adds to the minor characters like Mrs. Brill (Dorea Schmidt) and the clumsy Robertson Ay (the likable Benjamin Lurye).

The astonishing Patricia Hurley is "Mary" is she is just plain terrific. She has the accent down pat.

Playing the key role of Bert is Rhett Guter who I will never forget. What an actor, dancer, and singer. He has the role of MC and even helps coordinate the moving of the sets (brilliant work by Daniel Ettinger well known for his work as the resident scenic design at Everyman Theatre). His ovation for "Step in Time" were well-deserved. Kudos to the excellent choreography by Tara Jeanne Vallee.

Adding to the enjoyment are the clever puppets (birds, a dog, and yes, dancing penguins) designed by Matthew Pauli. The superb lighting is by Colin K. Bills, and the wonderful sound design is by Jeffrey Dorfman.

Music Director Timothy Splain conducts a superb 9 -piece orchestra though it would have been nice to have more than one string, a cello. I would have loved some violins.

The end of the show is priceless...all I will say.

MARY POPPINS runs until New Year's Day. For tickets, call 301-924-3400 or visit www.olneytheatre.org.

I highly recommend the book "Moose, Chapters from My Life" by co-composer Robert B. Sherman. It is a great read. Sherman relates that he and his brother Richard would entertain Walt Disney in his office every Friday afternoon where they played Disney's favorite song "Feed the Birds".

For sale in the lobby are the Original Cast Recording $25, mugs $12, tote bags, $10, and a music box figurine for $98.

What a time for Disney. Just reviewed FREAKY FRIDAY (based on the Disney movie), MARY POPPINS, and last night I was invited to see the new Disney animated "Moana". What a hit this will be and I expect a Broadway show. There is music from Lin-Manuel Miranda and there is even a credit at the end to the cast of HAMILTON. For a surprise, stay until the end of the credits.

The next big musical at Olney is SWEENEY TODD directed by Artistic Director Jason Loewith starring David Benoit as the demon barber, Rachel Zampelli as the Beadle and E. Faye Butler as Mrs. Lovitt. I cannot wait for this. It runs Feb. 1 to March 5, 2017.

And I also look forward to MY FAIR LADY, running from June 21 to July 23.

For the holidays:

A CHRISTMAS CAROL: A GHOST STORY FOR CHRISTMAS, performed and adapted by Paul Morella running Nov. 25 to December 24, 2016 also at the Olney Theatre Center.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL returns to Ford's Theatre with Craig Wallace in the lead through Dec. 31.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL at Toby's Dinner now through January 8, 2016.

Also, see a nice article by the Washington Post's Jane Horwitz on family shows in the Nov. 11 edition including THE SECRET GARDEN at the Shakespeare Theatre Company through Dec. 31.

THIS AND THAT

If you will be in NYC on Nov. 21, you can see a preview of the new musical DEAR EVEN HANSEN at 5:30 p.m. at the Vornado Courtyard in Bloomingdale's, 731 Lexington Avenue (between 58th and 59th).

Performing live will be Ben Platt, Laura Dreyfuss, Rachel Bay Jones, and Jennifer Laura Thompson. Following the performance will be the unveiling of their holiday window displays. You can pre-order the CD December 2.

The composers of DEAR EVAN HANSEN also wrote the musical A CHRISTMAS STORY which opens at the Hippodrome Theatre and runs Dec. 6 to Dec. 11.

You can also hear their music in the new film "La La Land" opening in December.

cgshubow@broadwayworld.com

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