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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 20, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 20
Top-flight entertainment with Mary Poppins
Arts & Entertainment
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Top-flight entertainment with Mary Poppins

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

Mary Poppins
Paramount Theatre
Through May 29


See Mary Poppins fly through the air inside the Paramount Theatre! See Bert walk up the proscenium arch, across the top, and down the other side! These are just a couple of the magical moments to enjoy as the touring Cameron Mackintosh/Disney-produced musical Mary Poppins plays at the Paramount through the end of the month.

The movie Mary Poppins is probably a seminal childhood memory for a lot of people, including today's generations of young people. Could a stage musical equal or exceed one of the best movie musicals in history?

Though it might not exceed, the challenge has certainly been met by book writer Julian Fellowes and original composer/lyricists Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman, along with new composer/lyricists George Stiles and Anthony Drewe.

Brand-new songs such as 'Practically Perfect,' a song Mary Poppins sings about herself as an introduction, and 'Brimstone and Treacle,' sung by a diabolical monster nanny, Miss Andrew, integrate themselves into the story as if they, too, were part of the original music. And of course the old favorites 'Spoonful of Sugar,' 'Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,' and 'Chim Chim Cher-ee' are all present.

For those who live under rocks, this is a story set in Britain around 1900, about a couple of children who keep losing their nannies until Mary Poppins magically appears to take control. She's firm but nice, and completely unexpected in every way. Coatracks and plants are pulled from her empty carpetbag, she flies through the air with help of her bird umbrella, toys jump into their places when she wants them to, and in this production, an exploded kitchen gets magically mended. Poppins (played with grace and warmth by Steffanie Leigh) is best friends with a chimney sweep (Nicolas Dromard, who is properly cheeky and totally entrancing toward the audience).

The musical changes the story just a bit, going back to the novels of P.L. Travers for inspiration. Here, George Banks (Laird Mackintosh), the father, is a detached parent with a history of childhood neglect, who needs a change of heart as much as the children need a governess. Winifred Banks (Blythe Wilson), a former actress, has been struggling to become the kind of wife Mr. Banks would be proud of, but he's more ashamed of her than proud.

The two children (Camille Mancuso or Marissa Smoker alternating as Jane Banks, and Talon Ackerman or Tyler Merna alternating as Michael Banks) start off a bit bratty and are tamed by their contact with Mary. Here, their first experience with Poppins' magic is going to the park and talking to the statues who come alive, in a fun dance number with artfully clothed, naked-looking statues (designed by Bob Crowley, who also designed an amazing set).

Winifred Banks had heard good things about George's old nanny for years, so she finds her and brings her to the house. Big mistake! Miss Andrew turns out to be a monster. Q. Smith milks this role for all she's worth, making Andrews as hateful as possible, but bringing down the house with her belting and scenery chewing - think Ursula from The Little Mermaid and you'll get a pretty good idea. A medicine-dosing competition between Andrew and Poppins is a fun moment for young kids to root for nice over mean.

On opening night, the children were played by Marissa Smoker and Talon Ackerman. Young Ackerman has the 'it' factor. He's a wonderful little actor and immersed himself fully into the role. He seems to have all the earmarks of a kid who could grow up and have a major career on stage for the rest of his life.

Another standout, even in a tiny role, was Janet MacEwen as the Bird Woman, who sings 'Feed the Birds.' Her lovely voice made those melancholy moments islands of longing.

A dance highlight was the boisterous chimney sweeps tapping 'Step in Time,' though as they get used to the size of the Paramount stage, they'll probably get even crisper in their detail.

The ingenious set got its own applause as it unfolded like a storybook. It's a magnificent addition to the tour, and is prominent as a character of its own.

Music direction by Daniel Bowling smartly held the orchestra together. Rather than overpowering the singers (often a Paramount problem), the orchestra supported them.

The length of production is also within bounds of almost all but the youngest children, so feel confident in taking the little ones. There's plenty of magic for them to gawk at, and all the feel-good messages you could wish. Poppins' final goodbye moment is priceless; something the littlest will talk about for months.

For more information, go to www.stgpresents.org or call 877-STG-4TIX (784-4849).

Discuss your opinions with sgncritic@gmail.com.

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