Mary Poppins: This WBT production succeeds in every way!

Published: Tuesday, May 27, 2014 By: Michall Jeffers Source: Total Theater

The Westchester Broadway Theater is the longest running, year-round Equity theater in the history of New York State. On July 9, 2014, the theater will celebrate its 40th anniversary. The very first musical was Kiss Me Kate;183 main-stage productions followed. The theater has become a cultural mainstay of Westchester County.

Unlike many dinner theaters around the country, the food is very nice, and the service is cheerful and efficient. While there’s extensive free parking, I urge those who want to be close to the entrance to arrive early. The lobby is deluxe, and the seating is comfortable. Because of the three-quarters thrust stage, sight lines are excellent from everywhere in the house. Westchester Broadway is renowned throughout the county as a popular spot for birthdays, anniversaries and all kinds of parties and group gatherings. In a homey touch, these special occasions are announced from the stage before the show begins.

The current offering, Mary Poppins, is a natural for this family-oriented venue. The musical is based on the beloved 1964 Disney film. Beginning in November 2006, it ran for over 2,500 performances on Broadway and received seven Tony Award nominations, including Best Musical.

The play opens with a little dollhouse on stage; the backdrop is a sky of blue, with fluffy clouds. Bert, the chimney sweep, fills us in on the situation, and the action begins.

The year is 1910, and the attitudes and costumes are properly Edwardian. The Banks family cannot keep a nanny. The children, Jane and Michael, are rambunctious and love to pull pranks. Mrs. Banks is a former actress who feels hemmed in by her limited life as the wife of a husband who insists she invite to her party “the right sort of people.” Mr. Banks is incapable of showing real affection to either his wife or his children, and the family suffers.

Into this emotion maelstrom soars – quite literally – Mary Poppins. She is supremely confident and more than up for the challenge of mending the family. She employs wit, know-how, and a healthy dose of magic to aid the situation. She fills the children’s days with unforgettable characters, both those who are human, and those who are inanimate without her special touch. Chief among the real people is Bert, the chimney sweep, who’s always up for an adventure, and is clearly sweet on this Mary.

This WBT production succeeds in every way. The cast is led by Lauren Blackman, who must qualify as one of the most beautiful enchanted nannies to ever grace a stage. She has a voice to match, and charisma which captivates not only the characters onstage but the audience, as well.

Leo Ash Evens is thoroughly appealing as Bert; I very much enjoy the flirtatiousness between Bert and Mary in this production. The kids are suitably adorable; Leisa Mather lends a touch of wistfulness as Mrs. Banks, and Joe Dellger takes a page from “Life with Father” as her properly starchy husband.

The costumes are colorful and lovely; the women look corseted, yet are able to dance with ease. There’s a real element of creativity and playfulness, as witnessed by the striking purple and orange wigs of the dolls which come to life. The audience applauds the carousel which rises from the middle of the floor, and seeing Mary fly across the stage delights young and old alike.

Director/choreographer Richard Stafford keeps the proceedings moving at a lively clip and never lets the more serious moments bog down the joyfulness of the evening. The sets interchange with fluid precision; the inorganic characters which spring to life are believable and entertaining, especially the statues in the park.

The WBT strives to present professional theater at its finest, and with this production of Mary Poppins, they’ve scored a bullseye. And the roast beef is really good, too.