Mary Poppins musical soars on WBT stagePublished: Thursday, June 12, 2014 By: Debra Banerjee Source: The Scarsdale Inquirer
When Mary Poppins flies with her umbrella onto the Westchester Broadway Theatre stage, the mechanics are visible, but happily, the magical illusion remains. And when the nanny extraordinaire arrives at 17 Cherry Tree Lane, London, to care for Jane and Michael Banks, the magic continues as she opens her carpet-bag to take out a hat rack, a large potted plant and assorted other surprises.
The musical features some of the familiar and beloved songs and scenes from the Walt Disney film version that starred Julie Andrews in the title role, but also more material from the stories of P.L. Travers. The book is by Julian Fellowes of "Downton Abbey" fame with additional songs and music by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. Producer Cameron Mackintosh was co-creator.
"Mary Poppins," which had a six-year run on Broadway after a successful West End production, feels closer to the P.L. Travers style. Mary Poppins (an excellent Lauren Blackman) has a bit of an edge to her, and some of the scenes, such as when the toys come alive, have a dreamy quality, but are a little creepy, too.
Thankfully, there are the delightful numbers from the film, "Jolly Holiday," "A Spoonful of Sugar," "Chim Chim Cher-ee" and "Let's Go Fly A Kite," but there are also enjoyable new songs like "Practically Perfect" and "Anything Can Happen."
When the mysterious Mary Poppins arrives at the troubled Banks household, Jane and Michael are misbehaving and seeking attention from their father George (Joseph Dellger). George is too focused on his job at the bank to give his wife Winnifred (Leisa Mather) and the children the love and attention they crave.
There's a back story here, that George is the way he is because of his scary childhood nanny, Miss Andrew, who comes back briefly to the Banks household when Mary Poppins disappears for a while.
As the children have their adventures with Mary and Bert, the chimney sweep (an also excellent Leo Ash Evans), George has a crisis at his Job that results in his becoming closer to his family. He has come to realize what's really important in life.
"Mary Poppins" is directed and choreographed by Richard Stafford with musical direction by Leo P. Carusone. In certain scenes the transition from a magical event to "reality" wasn't well defined and I thought "Anything Can Happen" was a natural ending for Act 2, but the show continued for two more songs.
The cast and supporting cast are outstanding. Blackman has a beautiful voice and really looks the part of Mary Poppins in the Julie Andrews mold. Evens, as well, is a fine singer and dancer. The dance numbers were terrific, especially the tap number "Step in Time" with Bert and the sweeps.
The outrageously wicked Miss Andrew (Jan Neuberger) got laughs for her number "Brimstone and Treacle."
Mather's gentle sincerity rings true in her role as Mrs. Banks. Dellger makes clear Mr. Banks's transformation from a gruff man too formal to concern himself with parenting, to an involved, kite-flying father.
White Plains native and WBT veteran Karen Murphy makes the most of her role as the household servant Miss Brill.
The children, Michelle Moughan and Gabriel Reis, alternating performances with Jane Shearin and Brandon Singel, gave fine performances as well.
Kudos to the tech crew for making Mary Poppins fly and kudos to the team that brought this 40th anniversary production to the stage at Westchester Broadwat Theatre "in a most delightful way."
"Mary Poppins" will be on stage at Westchester Broadway Theatre through July 27. For tickets, see www.broadwaytheatre.com.