Sometimes nostalgia can be disappointing, but even so, it’s awfully nice to go home again. So it is with Olney Theatre Center’s Mary Poppins. The movie you remember has been reshaped into a Broadway extravaganza, courtesy of Disney and assorted cohorts. That’s both a good thing and a bad thing, for if you’re expecting a literal blow-by-blow of the beloved Walt Disney movie of 1964 starring Julie Andrews, well, you’re bound to be a bit disappointed.
With music and lyrics by the original film team of Richard M Sherman and Robert B Sherman, new musical material by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe and an expanded book by Julian Fellowes, the musical both treads familiar ground and expands on PL Travers’ original books, some of which audiences will find familiar with some of which will be new to many.
And that’s really the strength and the weakness of this Broadway musical: so much is crammed into it that it’s just a whole lotta show. For the wee littles new to musical theatre, it could be a stretch, particularly the overlong first act. At two and a half hours, much could have been – really, should have been – cut to make it more accessible to the smaller folk it caters to. And for larger folks, do we ultimately care about the precariousness of the Banks’ marriage? Or that Mrs Banks, was, apparently, once an actress and not a suffragette, as depicted in the film? Nope, not really.
All we want to see is our Mary Poppins sail in, pull a coat rack out of a carpetbag and save the day, preferably accompanied by some zippy song and dance numbers from the chimney sweeps. Fortunately that happens – and wow when it does; there are some talented tapdancers in those sweep costumes. “Chim Chim Cher-ee”, used only once in the movie, has additional lyrics and is used to bookend the action. It offers a chance to stitch together what would be unrelated scenes. Plus it’s one of the most hummable tunes ever written.
And about Mary Poppins flying? Yes, indeedy, she does that, and rather spectacularly: diagonally above the audience’s heads, and it’s well worth the wait. Kudos to D2 Flying Effects for the seamless flight of our favorite nanny.
Olney does Mary Poppins a great turn, with stellar performances, particularly Patricia Hurley as Mary Poppins and Eileen Ward as Winifred Banks. Rhett Guter, as Bert, seems to have adopted the unfortunate marblemouth faux Cockney accent of the movie’s original Bert, Dick Van Dyke, but he’s such a good dancer that he can be forgiven.
The real stars of the show, however, were the surprisingly polished performances of the two children, Jane and Michael Banks, played by Audrey Kilgore and Henry Mason on the matinee this writer attended. (Other performances are alternately played by actors Tyler Quentin Smallwood and Katharine Ford). Notice must also be taken of Ashleigh King as Mrs Correy; it’s impossible to watch anyone else on stage while this talented dancer-singer is wearing tap shoes, and Dorea Schmidt as Mrs. Brill, the cook, delivers some comic zingers with obvious relish.
Extended! closes January 8, 2017
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Special mention must be made of the puppets by Matthew Pauli, especially the doggie on a leash and the darling little pigeons seen in “Feed the Birds.” And be assured, there are penguins, too- if for no other reason in the script than that we’re expecting penguins. Pretty cute penguins, too.
Olney is renowned for its attention to details, and the elegant set by Daniel Ettinger and bright costumes by Erik Teague are as immaculately rendered as any you’ll see in larger venues. Sound, though, was a bit off on Sunday’s performance, with some lyrics virtually indecipherable from background noise and the overly loud score. We may already know the words but we do want to hear them.
Choreography by Tara Jeanne Vallee was sprightly and well executed- this may be a story set in England, but without American-invented tapdancing, those chimney sweeps would look forlorn indeed.
Though the production may seem overlong, especially towards the end of Act I, that’s the fault of the writers and not to be laid at the feet of anyone in this Olney production.
Director Jason King Jones kept up the pace with little lag time, and favorite numbers such as “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”, “Jolly Holiday” and (my personal favorite) “Step In Time” continue to be favorites even after all these years because they’re just so darned good. As Mary Poppins sings of herself in Act I, it’s all Practically Perfect.
Mary Poppins . Original Music & Lyrics: Richard M Sherman and Robert B Sherman; New Songs and Additional Music and Lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe; based on the original film by Disney and the stories of PL Travers; co-created by Cameron Macintosh . Cast: Kenneth Derby, Katharine Ford, James Frisby, Matt Greenfield, Rhett Guter, Lance E Hayes, Patricia Hurley, Amanda Kaplan, Audrey Kilgore, Ashleigh King, Karl Kippola, Julia Lancione, Valerie Leonard, Benjamin Lurye, Emily Madden, Henry Mason, Robert Mintz, Nurney, Dorea Schmidt, Tyler Quentin Smallwood, Shawna Walker, Eileeen Ward . Costumes: Eri Teague . Set Design: Daniel Ettinger . Lighting: Colin K Bills . Sound Design; Jeffrey Dorfman . Puppet Designer: Matthew Pauli . Music Director: Timothy Splain . Choreographer: Tara Jeanne Vallee . Produced by Olney Theatre Center . Reviewed by Jill Kyle-Keith.