'Mary Poppins' Flies High at Westchester Broadway Theatre

Published: Monday, June 9, 2014 By: Bruce Apar Source: townlink.com

As with all Disney stage shows sired by Disney movies, Mary Poppins faces the challenge of living up to the film classic, in this case live-action, including the iconic movie stars forever linked to their characters. 

In the production now at Westchester Broadway Theater through July 27 (914-592-2222; www.BroadwayTheatre.com), when Lauren Blackman as Mary intones her first song (“Practically Perfect”), it is hard not to be pleasantly struck by the vocal similarities to Julie Andrews, who won the 1964 Best Actress Oscar for the role. 

Ms. Blackman is all business as the high-flying nanny who saves the day in the Banks household for parents and kiddies alike. The actress is technically impressive to the last accent-inflected note. In her hands, the melodic music and lilting lyrics are lovely to listen to. 

Her aerial entrance and exit, above the audience, is the highest profile special effect in the show, and is used sparingly, as it should be to retain its uniqueness. In fact, her first zip line ride to the stage is purposely upstaged so as to make it a bit more surprising as she alights, rather than turn it into a corny circus act. Kids especially will delight to furniture with a life of its own, statues that dance, a flying kite, and more stage magic.

Lifting the show every time he’s on stage is Leo Ash Evans as chimney sweep Bert, and not just because at one point he too is hoisted skyward over the set’s rooftops. The British actor infuses the Dick Van Dyke role with his own brand of joyful movement, bounding about the stage while spreading warmth and charm. 

In her rather brief role, Jan Neuberger as “holy terror” nanny Miss Andrews makes a big impression with a sharply drawn, larger-than-life performance. Also notable as bank executive Mr. Banks is Joe Bellger, who wins our empathy by conveying a relatable humanity. 

The signature musical numbers – “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” “Supercalifragilistic-andyouknowtherest” & “A Spoonful of Sugar” among them — are performed with high energy and precision, thanks to director/choreographer Richard Stafford and his Number 2, Jonathan Stahl. My favorite was “Step in Time,” with the whole ensemble getting into the act of having a good ol’ time, buoyed by the toe-tapping happiness of Irish step dancing.