Mary Poppins has soared into Costa Mesa (by umbrella of course), the arrival of the London/Broadway hit the best possible news for Los Angeles and Orange County children of all ages, from today’s kindergartners to the 50&60something Boomers who first fell in love with the 1964 Walt Disney film on which it is based. Heck, you can make that children in their nineties, Mary Poppins having first debuted way back in the 1930s as a series of novels by P.L. Travers.


While film purists may protest the excision of Uncle Albert (and “I Love To Laugh”) as well as Mrs. Banks’ extrafamilial role as “Sister Suffragette,” the 2006 Broadway smash restores the novels’ come-to-life statues and a visit to Mrs. Corry’s gingerbread shop. The majority of the now-standard Sherman Brothers songs remain (“A Spoonful of Sugar,” “Jolly Holiday,” “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” “Feed the Birds,” “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” and “Let’s Go Fly a Kite”), with an extra half dozen or so George Stiles/Anthony Drewe creations added to compliment Julian Fellowes’ somewhat darker book, Mary Poppins’ self-congratulatory anthem “Practically Perfect” and the infectious eleventh hour “Anything Can Happen” proving particular joys.

The very best way to enjoy Mary Poppins The Musical is to cast aside any preconceptions you may have from either movie or books and simply enjoy its magical ride.

And what a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious ride it is, this uber-high-end National Tour giving new meaning to “touring production.” No “bus-and-truck” tour this one, with its 11,000-pound Banks House, 350+ lighting cues, 250 complete costumes, and a two-and-a-half day move-in time required for each Mary Poppins stop.

A hit musical must, however, be more than its sets and costumes (though Bob Crowley’s scenic and costume designs are some of the most spectacular you’ll see on Broadway or anywhere else), and Mary Poppins has everything a musical smash must have—hummable songs, unforgettable dance numbers (choreographed here by the masterful Matthew “Swan Lake” Bourne), and performances to rave about, all under Richard Eyre’s and co-director Bourne’s expert directorial hands. Oh, and there’s magic too, and not just when Mary Poppins pulls a roomful of fixtures out of her trademark carpet bag purse.

Pert blonde All-American Steffanie Leigh vanishes inside Mary Poppins’ prim-and-proper brunette (and veddy British) skin, as pretty as a picture and with a voice and acting chops to match. Canadian Nicolas Dromard morphs into Cockney Bert, with a showstopping performance of “Step In Time” that has the triple-threat tap-dancing upside-down from the top of the mile-high Segerstrom Center proscenium—only one of Dromard’s many stellar chimney-sweep moments. Together, Leigh and Dromard make for one of the most enchanting song-and-dance duos since Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke first went on a “Jolly Holiday” forty-seven years ago.

Fellowes’ book turns the Banks family considerably more dysfunctional that in the film, making George a near absentee father (and victim of his own emotional childhood abuse) and Winifred a former actress who longs to be more than simply an extension of her stuffed-shirt of a husband. Laird Mackintosh and Blythe Wilson couldn’t be better as the not-quite-happy couple, the stage version giving Mackintosh a big solo moment in “Precision And Order,” which turns into a major production number featuring a stageful of bank clerks, and Wilson a heartfelt center-stage turn in “Being Mrs. Banks.”

In supporting roles, Rachel Izen and Dennis Moench make for a terrific comic duo as housekeeper Mrs. Brill and underling Robertson Ay, Bird Lady Janet MacEwen sings a touching “Feed The Birds,” and Josh Assor may well be the most captivating dancing statue ever as Neleus. Michael McCarty is a fine Admiral Boom, though the role gives him far less to do here than in the movie. Alternating as Jane and Michael Banks (considerably naughtier in musical than in film) are Camille Mancuso and Marissa Smoker, and Talon Ackerman and Tyler Merna. Finally, in the scene-stealingest supporting turn of the year, Q. Smith both dazzles and terrifies as Nanny-From-Hell Miss Andrew, a tour-de-force “Brimstone And Treacle” sending Smith’s powerhouse alto into the stratosphere. In smaller roles, Debra Cardona (Miss Lark), Eric Coles (Northbrook), Mark Harapiak (Von Hussler), Eric Hatch (Valentine), Michael Dean Morgan (Park Keeper), and Michelle E. White (Mrs. Corry) acquit themselves with kite-flying colors.

Completing the Broadway-caliber cast in tracks which require Grade A song-and-dance talents (and countless costume changes to book) are Jacob ben Widmar, Kiara Bennett, Elizabeth Broadhurst, Arielle Campbell, Hannah Chin, Anthony Christina Daniel, Tyler Foy, Molly Garner, Eric Giancola, Koh Mochizuki, Chuck Rea (Policeman), Nic Thompson, Rachel Wallace, and Neka Zang. Swings (who may assume ensemble tracks at certain performances) are dance captains Elizabeth Earley and Geoffrey Goldberg, Lisa Kassay, and Sam Strasfeld.

Particular mention must be made of the show’s remarkable production numbers, another feather in the cap of the choreographic genius that is Bourne, who has statues leaping and pirouetting, toys and bankers kicking up their heels, and chimney sweeps tapping and high-kicking like Radio City Rockettes, not to mention the myriad kites flying high above the stage in “Let’s Go Fly A Kite.”

The fluidity of the production’s innumerable scene changes, aided and abetted by Howard Harrison’s vibrant lighting design, bear mentioning as well, as does Steve Canyon Kennedy’s crystal clear sound design. Musical director Daniel Bowling conducts the Mary Poppins orchestra to perfection. Stephen Mear is co-choreographer. Jimmie Lee Smith is production stage manager. The contributions of other creative and technical artists are truly too numerous to mention.

Even at two and three-quarter hours (including intermission), Mary Poppins keeps its youngest audience members every bit as enthralled as are their parents, grandparents, and other assorted adults. Truly in a class by itself, Disney and Cameron Mackintosh’s Mary Poppins is the best kind of family entertainment, i.e. the sort no one is ever too old to love.

Segerstrom Center For The Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.

–Steven Stanley
July 15, 2011

Photos: Joan Marcus

Comments are closed.