Review by Chris Daniels as first posted on The Show Report.
With elaborate sets, eye-popping costumes, animated projections and show-stopping numbers, this Disney-rific production will transport you to the Banks’ household on Cherry Lane in short order, as well as to the rooftops of London, and make you wish the curtain would never come down.
We all know the story immortalized by the 1964 Disney movie — a governess-type Mary Poppins shows up at the privileged London home of little Jane and Michael Banks, where she wows the obstreperous children by introducing them to amazing chimneysweeps, mind boggling shopkeepers, dancing statues, and other unforgettable characters who quickly win the youngsters’ hearts.
Some of the more unforgettable tunes in the musical version are hummers like “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” “Jolly Holiday,” “Let’s Go Fly A Kite,” “Step in Time,” “A Spoonful of Sugar,” “Feed the Birds,” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” Visually stunning, this high-pedigree show, originally produced by Walt Disney Theatrical and Cameron Mackintosh, currently plays at Rose Center Theater through July 16th, and is staged by prominent RTC resident director, Tim Nelson (“Bright Blue Sky,” “Together”) along with wonder-choreographers Jennifer Simpson-Matthews and Diane Makas.
Nobody does magical entertainment like Disney, and every act of beguilement comes with a fortune-cookie life lesson attached. Author P.L. Travers understood this special kind of spell-binding enchantment when she published her first book, “Mary Poppins,” in 1934, focusing on discovering the extraordinary world around us, even when things look their bleakest. The musical is the story of the Banks family who live in a big Victorian house in London. Things are not going well for the family at the moment — the children, Jane (Waverly Craver) and Michael (Brady Barrett) are out of control and are routinely driving successive nannies from the house. Their lives are dull and quite boring as their parents hardly have time for them. But they finally meet their match when their advertisement for a new nanny brings the magical Mary Poppins to their house on Cherry Tree lane.
And when that mysterious young governess glides into their lives, all starch and no nonsense, the family finds that she’s the answer to their prayers, but in the most peculiar way. April Malina’s Mary Poppins takes the children on many magical and memorable adventures, along with her chimneysweep friend, Bert (Brennan Eckberg), only to find out that “anything can happen if you let it.” In her hands, umbrellas fly, carpet bags hide endless treasures and a day at the park becomes a journey to a new world. But beyond the optical effects or indelible lead characters, the message behind Mary Poppins remains the same: Hope can be a powerful tool in the face of hard times.
Director Nelson also adds special touches of wizardry, propelling this production into a memorable theatrical offering. Chris Caputo’s breathtaking lighting, scenic design and elaborate sets deserve an “amazing” award, almost coming alive in a surreal, fantasy-rich scrim of bold colors. And rich, bright, intensely engaging costumes and striking pastels by Carole Zelinger brings to mind the original Broadway design.
April Malina, who is quite literally “practically perfect in every way,” is also whimsically delightful, prim, proper and confidently poised, never once faltering from curtain up to curtain down. Ms. Malina beautifully balances the nanny’s playful side along with a spoonful of sternness, nailing the essence of the character as someone who is strict but also has a heart of gold. But one of the best things about Ms. Malina is her phenomenal voice, one that invites you into Mary’s world, no questions asked. And those stunning turn-of-the-20th century Edwardian walking suits and high-button shoes do seem to have been designed with Ms. Malina in mind.
Mr. Eckberg's Bert, the wonderful chimneysweep who’s essentially the musical’s de facto narrator/ringmaster, complements the dazzling Mary Poppins expertly as an accomplice in her mission to win over and enlighten her wards with song, light-on-his-feet dance moves and clever dialogue. As a bright-eyed, jack-of-all trades constant companion to Mary, Mr. Eckberg brings a raucous, music-hall quality to Bert that makes him the hub and heart of the show.
You may remember Mr. Eckberg in previous roles playing Sweeney Todd, or Cinderella’s prince in “Into the Woods.” He’s not as goofy as Van Dyke in the Disney film, of course, but he definitely has a better Cockney accent. His character seems to be a bit deeper too — a little more nuanced, which helps him fit in with the Banks family when he finally chooses to coalesce. Almost effortlessly, Mr. Eckberg’s Bert thrills the audience with his naturally convivial voice, great diction, and terrific stage presence.
In the musical, Kristin Henry’s Winifred Banks (“Being Mrs. Banks”) is no longer a suffragette as she was in the movie. She’s now a former actress and neglected spouse looking for a bit of love and self-respect. Formerly seen in the film as a bit ditsy, she’s portrayed in the stage version more as a down-to-earth wife and mother, who’s perhaps been spread too thin. But, in a pinch, she’ll stand right up and defend her husband, George, even before his dreaded boss.
Chris Caputo (“Spamalot,” “My Fair Lady”), who plays the suitably stern George Banks, is perfect as the grouchy father whose rough childhood leads him to becoming strict to his own. Mr. Caputo’s character is featured in many numbers, but George has two prominent solos that stood out in the show – “A Man Has Dreams” and “Good for Nothing.” George, however, manages to get in big trouble when he turns down a rich German client for a loan and gives one to a small factory operator so he can keep his men employed, infuriating his boss, who promptly suspends him.
Then there’s the elderly, retired Admiral Boom (characterized by David Hubbard), who has the reputation of being slightly off, yet fully functional as town crier, with an inordinate affinity for cannon firing. And, as houseboy to the Banks family, Ray Tezanos plays the clumsy Robertson Ay who never quite gets things right. He has a very funny pratfall in Act I and is featured in the number, "A Spoonful of Sugar," which has made the character somewhat of an anticipated favorite.
In addition, Judy Ann Davila is a pragmatic and plain-spoken Mrs. Brill; Lauren Belt is the wise old Mrs. Corry, who runs the sweet shop, and Brett Popiel is the rules stickler Park Keeper; Erik Duane is the crusty Bank Chairman; Ben Applegate is businessman Von Hussler; and the amusing Randy Calcetas is honest businessman Northbrook. Rachel Girardet portrayed the colorfully characterized Miss Lark this night. Alana Ruhe is Katie Nana, Matthew Candela plays the Policeman, and Jaime Hoover plays the bank chairman’s humorless secretary, Miss Smythe. The company also boasts a full and especially strong, well-drilled ensemble, with plenty of real dancing and stentorian choral work. Top dancing honors, however, go to Taven Blanke as Neleus, the stone statue in the park that comes to life. And an indelible Cat Valentine has an emotionally charged moment with the Bird Woman’s “Feed the Birds.”
Last but definitely not least is Mr. Banks's destructive former nanny, “The Holy Terror” (AKA Miss Andrews, played by Sarah Meals) who arrives at the top of Act 2 to replace a departed Mary, and who brandishes potions and incantations operatically about the contents of her "Brimstone and Treacle," a special concoction to keep her new charges, Jane and Michael, in line. Though Miss Andrew is little more than a mild threat for Mary to vanquish, Ms. Meals invests her character with the courage of her demented convictions in a way that throttles you to attention unlike anything else here.
All in all, Disney and Cameron MacKintosh’s “Mary Poppins” is considered that rarest of rare treat: a show visually captivating and heart-warming to its core! You’ll sing to the dance numbers, you’ll delight in the colors, the energy, you’ll be astounded at the high-performance level, not to mention the eye-catching theatrical effects. With its chipper aphorisms about finding the courage to be yourself and its dominant theme of mending a broken family, this "Mary Poppins" is pitched straight to the heart, and will have you flying high over the rooftops yourself before the night ends.
ROSE CENTER THEATER, PRESENTS, DISNEY & CAMERON MACKINTOSH’S MARY POPPINS, THE BROADWAY MUSICAL, an RCT Musical Theater Professional Series, Based on the Book by P.L. TRAVERS; Original Music & Lyrics by RICHARD M. SHERMAN and ROBERT B. SHERMAN; New Songs & Additional Songs by GEORGE STILES & ANTHONY DREWE; Directed & Musically Directed by TIM NELSON; Choreographed by JENNIFER SIMPSON-MATTHEWS & DIANE MAKAS; Scenic Design/Technical Direction/Lighting & Projection Design by CHRIS CAPUTO; Costume Design by CAROLE ZELINGER; Sound by RYLIE HERBEL; Wigs by CLIFF SENIOR; Props by SHERRE TITUS; Production Stage Manager DAVID ELLIOTT.
STARRING: APRIL MALINA, BRENNAN ECKBERG, CHRIS CAPUTO, KRISTIN HENRY, BRADY BARRETT, WAVERLY CRAVER, CHARLIE FIRLIK, ETHAN HORNER, NATALIE SAND, BELLAMI SOLEIL SMITH. ALSO STARRING: SARAH MEALS, CAT VALENTINE, JUDY ANN DAVILA, RAY TEZANOS, LAUREN BELT, TAVEN BLANKE, ERIK DUANE. FEATURING: RACHEL GIRADET, MACAILA DORNEY, DAVID HUBBARD, BRETT POPIEL, MATTHEW CANDELA, ALANA RUHE, BEN APPLEGATE, RANDY CALCETAS, JAIME HOOVER.
WITH: SOFIA ANICETO, LAUREL BROOKHYSER, AVA CERAMI, KYLIE CHRISTENSEN, BAILEY CURTIS, MEGAN REESE CRANE, ELLA DE PREZ, ERICA DUANE, COLIN EATON, WINNIE FELTON, JESSICA FLYNN, MEGAN GLAUDINI, ANNA LISA GNIELINSKI, TRACE MACIAS, LANDON MARIANO, RAE MARTINEZ, JILLIAN MATTHEWS, KYLIE MATTHEWS, SAVANNA MATTHEWS, AVA MEIGOZA, FIN MILES REID, NATALIE SARGENT, LINSEY SCHRECK.
YOUTH ENSEMBLE: HARPER BALFANY, ABIGAIL BARNABY, ELLA CERAMI, SIERRA TOLENTINO CHAVEZ, NILES GRAY, PAYTON MARIANO, ANALEIGH SINGHI, CAMERON WYNN.
“MARY POPPINS, THE BROADWAY MUSICAL” runs June 30th through July 16th with performances at Westminster Rose Center Theater, 14140 All American Way, Westminster; Gala Performance - Saturday July 1st at 7:30PM. Performances are 7:30PM on June 30, July 1, 7, 8, 14, and 15, and a 2:00PM Matinee on July 2, 9, and 16. Run Time - Approximately 2 hours, 50 minutes including intermission. Tickets are $23-45 and may be purchased at www.rosecentertheater.com
Arts & Entertainment Reviewer
The Show Report
Photo credit: Jason Niedle / Tethos Creative
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