Forget practically perfect. Only someone as nitpicking as Mary Poppins herself could find nits to pick with the Disney and Cameron Mackintosh Broadway smash as produced to utter perfection by La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts and McCoy Rigby Entertainment.
Is there a more people-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’ extra-familial role as “Sister Suffragette,” the 2006 Broadway blockbuster 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 complement 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.
La Mirada/McCoy Rigby give us Mary Poppins The Musical at its most crowd-charming, its hummable songs even more hummable under Dennis Castellano’s pitch-perfect musical direction and Dan Mojica’s infectiously entertaining choreography making “Step In Time” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” every bit the show-stoppers they’re intended to be,
Oh, and there’s magic too, and not just Mary Poppins pulling a roomful of fixtures out of her trademark carpet-bag purse but lots more where that came from.
Nationally renowned director Glenn Casale adds his own magical touches along the way, and with gloriously voiced leading lady Brandi Burkhardt proving the ideal combination of sweetness and starch as the prim-and-proper nanny the wind blew in, audiences couldn’t ask for a more marvelous Mary.
Song-and-dance man extraordinaire Leigh Wakeford is even better as Cockney Everyman Bert than he was two years ago at Moonlight Stages if such a thing is possible, his aah-inspiring, gravity-defying tap-dancing all the way round the La Mirada proscenium in “Step In Time” sure to inspire wonder even in those who know what’s coming.
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.
The deliciously crusty Martin Kildare and the simply sublime Shannon Warne radiate star quality (and sing splendidly) as not-quite-happy couple, and the same can be said for Noa Solorio and Logan J Watts, everything you could ask for in a Jane and Michael Banks.
The delightful duo of Rachel Pfeifer Green and Dino Nicandros do their own scene-stealing as the comic relief couple better known as housekeeper Mrs. Brill and house boy Robertson Ay.
Helen Geller’s Bird Lady soars, thanks to decades of credits, undeniable stage presence, and an exquisitely sung “Feed The Birds.” A fabulous Mary Gutzi as Nanny-From-Hell Miss Andrew gives the Wicked Witch Of The West a run for her money with her show-stopping “Brimstone And Treacle,” in addition to her Mrs. Smythe and Queen Victoria bits. Brandon Burks dances with gorgeous grace as statue-come-to-life Neleus, Joël René is a warm and bubbly Mrs. Corry, and the ever dependable Time Winters makes the very most of his Admiral Boom/Bank Chairman cameos.
Ensemble members Nick Adorno, dance captain Kim Arnett, Kat Borrelli, Burks, Kevin Patrick Doherty, Michael Dotson (Park Keeper), Jake DuPree, Devon Hadsell, Natalie McDonald, René, Brian Steven Shaw, Momoko Sugai, Christine Tucker, and John B. Williford (Policeman) are Broadway-caliber each and every one of them, 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. (DuPree gets bonus points for the most dazzling display of somersaults I’ve seen in a good long while.)
And talking about dazzling, though Mary doesn’t do the in-air acrobatics for which her La Mirada predecessor Peter Pan is famed, flying sequences choreographed by Paul Rubin are the best I’ve witnessed in a regional Mary Poppins.
Though I’ve seen J. Branson’s sets, provided by Music Theatre Wichita, in two previous productions and described them as “more than adequate” albeit less sumptuous than those of the National Tour, design genius Jared A. Sayeg’s lights them so gorgeously that they look almost sumptuous. Janet Swenson’s costumes, provided by Tuachan Center For The Arts, look even more marvelous too as lit by Sayeg. Josh Bessom’s sound design provides a just-right blend of vocals and instrumentals. Additional deserved program credits go to hair and wig designer Katie McCoy, property designer Terry Hanrahan, and projection designer Jonathan Infante.
Casting by Julia Flores once again makes it abundantly clear that there is no need ever to cast an L.A. musical out of New York.
Jill Gold is production stage manager and Jess Manning is assistant stage manager. Buck Mason is general manager and David Cruise is technical director.
Whether you’ve seen Disney and Cameron Mackintosh’s Mary Poppins on Broadway, on tour, or regionally produced, its latest incarnation from La Mirada and McCoy Rigby deserves to be seen. Mary Poppinses don’t get any more supercalifragilisticexpialidocious than this one!
La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Boulevard, La Mirada.
June 4, 2105
Photos: Michael Lamont