Mary Poppins The Broadway Musical has arrived at Cabrillo Music Theatre to enchant audiences of all ages, and though Opening Night was technically rough around the edges, this is one terrifically entertaining production, particularly with Juliana Hansen and Wesley Alfvin filling Julie Andrews’ and Dick Van Dyke’s shoes quite marvelously indeed.
Is there a more crowd-pleasing musical for children of all ages than Mary Poppins? (By children I mean anyone from kindergartners to the 50/60something Boomers who first fell in love with the 1964 Walt Disney film on which it is based to “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 stage production’s departures from the much-loved movie classic (on which it is only partially based), most notably the excision of Uncle Albert and his “I Love To Laugh” and Mrs. Banks’ extrafamilial role as “Sister Suffragette,” the 2006 Broadway smash restores the Mary Poppins novels’ come-to-life statues and a visit to Mrs. Corry’s gingerbread shop, so let’s call it an even trade-off.
The majority of the now-standard Richard M./Robert B. Sherman songs remain (“A Spoonful of Sugar,” “Jolly Holiday,” “Feed the Birds,” “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” and “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” and of course “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”), 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 treats.
Ultimately, the very best way to enjoy Disney’s And Cameron Mackintosh’s Mary Poppins is to cast aside any preconceptions you may have from either movie or novels and simply delight in its magical ride.
And what a ride it is at Cabrillo Music Theatre, even minus the 11,000-pound Banks House that traveled with Mary when the musical toured the country from 2009 to 2013.
Mary Poppins has everything a musical smash ought to have, starting with hummable songs and unforgettable dance sequences, choreographed here by Cheryl Baxter, whose “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and “Step In Time” prove two of the show-stoppingest numbers ever to dazzle on the Fred Kavli Theatre stage.
Oh, and there’s magic too, Mary Poppins pulling a roomful of fixtures out of her trademark carpet-bag purse … and more.
Cabrillo Music Theatre artistic director Lewis Wilkenfeld directs with considerable flair, and an attention to creating real, three-dimensional characters, and he is blessed by an especially fine quartet of leading players.
The exquisite Hansen was born to play the prim-and-proper (and veddy British) Mary Poppins, giving her both sweetness and starch and making the role no carbon copy of any Julie who may have played Mary before her. As for Hansen’s vocals, they are pure perfection (forget the “practically”), and no wonder. She is the “new voice of Mary Poppins” on Walt Disney Records.
Song-and-dance-man extraordinaire Alfvin could not make for a more charming Cockney Everyman Bert, and when “Step In Time” has the Southland favorite gravity-defyingly tap-dancing all the way round the great-big Kavli proscenium, oohs and aahs are guaranteed.
Fellowes’ book makes the Banks family a good deal more dysfunctional than in the film, turning George into 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.
Michael Scott Harris and Michelle Lane do vocally gorgeous, multilayered work as the not-quite-happy couple, and Abigail Thompson and Sheffield Hocker are sweet-and-sassy preteen delights as Jane and Michael, and so I’m guessing are their alternates Maguire “Maggie” Balleweg and Brekkan Spens. (Lane’s “Being Mrs. Banks” is particularly lovely and heartfelt.)
Tania Passano Storrs turns the iconic Bird Lady into very much her own creation, her signature vocals making “Feed The Birds” a particular joy. As for Karen Sonnenschein’s Nanny-From-Hell Miss Andrew, she is one scary nanny indeed, hitting stratospheric notes in the show-stopping “Brimstone And Treacle”
Tyler Matthew Burk is a dance standout as statue Neleus, Rebecca Warm a bubbly Mrs. Corry, and dialect coach Terry Fishman a staunch and sturdy Admiral Boom, and ensemble members Ron de la Pena (Northbrook), David Gilchrist (Bank Chairman), Timothy Hearl (Park Keeper), Alistair James Murden (Constable), Ann Myers (Miss Lark), Courtney Potter (Katie Nana), and Paul Stroili (Von Hussler) make the very most of their cameos.
Brigid Benson, Burk, de La Pena, Kelly Derouin (Miss Smythe, Annie, Mary Poppins understudy), Cedric Dodd, Sarina Freda, Jay Gamboa, Gilchrist, Devon Hadsel (Fanny), Danny Hansen, Alison Haggerty, Holly Haworth, Hearl, dance captain Jenny Hoffman, Maor Levy, Derek A. Lewis, Janelle Loren, Myers, Charlie Nash, Chet Norment (Valentine), Potter, Stroili, Kim Taylor, and Kendyl Yokoyama are outstanding each and every one, whether as statues leaping and pirouetting, or as toys and bankers kicking up their heels, or as chimney sweeps tapping and high-kicking like Radio City Rockettes.
Scenic designer J. Branson’s sets, provided by Music Theatre Wichita, offer a more than adequate backdrop despite being considerably less sumptuous than those of the National Tour (and despite a number of opening night glitches during scene changes, the result of a much shorter-than-usual tech “week” through no fault of Cabrillo Music Theatre).
Costumes provided by Tuachan Center For The Arts are perfectly marvelous (and supervised by Christine Gibson). Cassie Russek gets top marks for hair and makeup design, as does prop designer Alex Choate.
Jean-Yves Tessier’s vibrant lighting seemed a bit off on Opening Night (doubtless the result of a mere two days of “tech”), though Jonathan Burke’s expert sound design went off without a hitch.
Musical director Ilana Eden gets top marks for the cast’s fabulous vocals and for conducting the 16-piece Mary Poppins orchestra to perfection.
I must confess to some disappointment at a virtually one-kite-only “Let’s Go Fly A Kite” sequence in place of the myriad kites that usually fly high above the stage. On the other hand, Mary Poppins does soar quite excitingly indeed with the aid of ZFX, Inc.
John Calder III is production stage manager, Samantha Sanchez and Tawni Eccles are assistant stage managers, and Ivan Irvani, Dani Kluss, and Aly Wein are second assistant stage managers. Gary Richardson is technical director.
Additional program credits go to Char Brister (crew captain), David Daniels (creative consultant), Anthony Egenforder (assistant technical director), Ginny Grady (assistant to the director), Gary Mintz (production advisor), and many more.
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, though its three-hour-long running time may tax the patience of the tiniest of tots (who ought probably to stick to the DVD for the time being).
For everyone else, it is one supercalifragilisticexpialidocious show!
Cabrillo Music Theatre, Kavli Theatre, Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 Thousand Oaks Boulevard, Thousand Oaks.
April 17, 2015
Photos: Ed Krieger