Mary Poppins has arrived by umbrella to set up housekeeping at Candlelight Pavilion in what looks to be the Claremont dinner theatre’s most popular show of the year, and no wonder. Could there be a more crowd-pleasing musical for children of all ages than Disney’s And Cameron Mackintosh’s Mary Poppins?
Film purists may protest the excision of the 1964 Disney film’s Uncle Albert (and “I Love To Laugh”) and Mrs. Banks’ extrafamilial role as “Sister Suffragette,” but P.L. Travers fans will appreciate the 2006 Broadway smash’s restoration of the Poppins novels’ come-to-life statues and a “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” visit to Mrs. Corry’s gingerbread shop.
The majority of the now-standard Sherman Brothers songs remain (“A Spoonful of Sugar,” “Jolly Holiday,” “Feed the Birds,” “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” and “Let’s Go Fly a Kite”) alongside an extra half-dozen or so George Stiles/Anthony Drewe creations including Mary Poppins’ self-congratulatory anthem “Practically Perfect” and the infectious eleventh hour “Anything Can Happen.”
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 books and simply delight in its magical ride.
And what a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious ride it is at Candlelight, even minus the 11,000-pound Banks House that traveled with Mary when the musical toured the country from 2009 to 2013. (Stagelight Productions’ sets by Janice Kraus are still some of the Pavilion’s best, particularly the revolving Banks family home.)
Mary Poppins has everything a musical smash ought to have, starting with hummable songs and spirited dance numbers, and just as he did at Moonlight Stages down San Diego way a couple years back, John Vaughan choreographs them as masterfully as he directs.
It helps immeasurably that in Sarah Elizabeth Combs, Candlelight Pavilion has found their perfect Mary Poppins, starchy and tart and vivacious and caring when care is required. She’s also quite lovely to look at and just as lovely to hear, Combs’ glorious soprano giving a certain Dame Julie a run for her money.
As for Cockney Everyman Bert, the handsome and charming Michael Skrzek more than fulfills the promise he revealed a few months back as Oklahoma!’s Will Parker, his Bert an irresistibly likeable chap who can sing and dance to rival MGM’s Golden Era best.
Julian Fellowes’ somewhat darker-than-the-movie book makes the Banks family a good deal more dysfunctional than in the film, perhaps no wonder when you consider that Fellowes went on to write Downton Abbey a half-dozen years after Mary Poppins’ London debut,
A 20something Lance Galgon convinces us he is 40something George Banks, now a victim of his own emotional childhood abuse by Nanny From Hell Miss Andrew, showing off fine pipes in “Precision And Order,” a Styles/Drew addition that quickly morphs into a major production number featuring a stageful of male and female bank clerks.
As for Winifred, now a former actress who longs to be more than simply an extension of her stuffed-shirt husband, Amy Gillette plays her quite terrifically, investing emotion and heart into a beautifully sung “Being Mrs. Banks.”
“Feed The Birds” Bird Lady and Nanny-From-Hell Miss Andrew are brought to alternately affectionate and hissworthy life by Kirklyn Robinson, who hits rafters-high notes in a scarifying “Brimstone And Treacle.”
Brooklyn Vizcarra and Gavin Haberle (alternating with Benjamin Lightfoot) make for a delightful Jane and Michael Banks, Koda Montoya displays balletic grace as fig leaf-clad statue Neleus, Spenser Micetich is a crusty treat as both Admiral Boom and the Chairman of George Banks’ bank, and Rachel McLaughlan, Josh Tangerman, and Maelyn Cacho deliver sparkling cameos as Miss Lark, the Park Keeper, and Mrs. Corry.
Production numbers showcase Vaughan’s high-energy choreography and the triple-threat talents of many of the abovementioned featured players (having ten fewer cast members than on Broadway means plenty of doubling and tripling up) along with talented singer-dancers Cody Bianchi, Emily Chelsea, Kima Christian, Kristina Dizon, Tad Fujioka, Hillary Kadoya, Andrew Lopez, Charlie Nash, and Alyssa Noto, who give us statues leaping and pirouetting, bankers kicking up their heels, and chimney sweeps tapping and high-kicking like Radio City Rockettes,
And in case you’re wondering, Mary Poppins does indeed take flight, as does a gravity-defying (though not proscenium-circling) Bert.
Lighting designer Steve Giltner of StreetLite LLC makes The Theatre Company’s colorful costumes (coordinated by Merrill Grady) look even more vividly hued, and this Mary Poppins sounds just as marvelous as it looks thanks to musical director Julie Lamoureux. (Songs are performed to pre-recorded orchestral tracks.)
Additional program credits go to Renee Liskey (assistant choreographer), Mary Warde and Michon Gruber-Gonzalez (wigs), Daniel Moorefield (stage manager), and Orlando Montes (technical director).
Executive chef Juan Alvarado and sous chef Maria Sandoval serve up Candlelight’s invariably yummy cuisine. Kudos as always to Candlelight Pavilion owner/producer Ben D. Bollinger, general manager/vice president Michael Bollinger, acting producer Mindy Teuber, and especially to artistic director John LaLonde.
With Mary, Bert, the Banks, and all the rest of the beloved P.L. Travers characters filling the Candlelight stage with Disney/Mackintosh magic, it looks to be one “Jolly Holiday” out Claremont way this summer.
Candlelight Pavilion, 455 W. Foothill Blvd., Claremont.
June 18, 2106
Photos: John LaLonde