If you have seen the Broadway or touring version of Disney and Cameron Mackintosh’s Mary Poppins, you may think it’s an ambitious endeavor for a regional theater. Yet, like with last year’s Les Misérables, Aurora Theatre shows that it can be done, even with the show’s necessary special effects. Under the steady helm of Justin Anderson’s direction, the show will make you “feel so grand.”
Based on Disney’s beloved movie and the classic books by P.L. Travers, Mary Poppins stages a new set of adventures for the Banks children as well as a few from the film. All of the Sherman brothers’ songs are included with new music written by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. The book is by Jullian Fellowes.
The high expectations are set from the moment you look at the stage. In the center under a spotlight rests the famous bag with the parrot head umbrella. When Andy Meeks steps out as Bert and sings “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” you know that this production will soar and quickly become one of Aurora’s most popular musicals.
Meeks fascinates as Bert with his humble, likeable demeanor. Whether he is narrating the show or dancing along side other chimney sweeps, he draws you into the story without being distracting, nor upstaging Galen Crawley as Mary Poppins. When he sings “Step in Time,” one of the more showstopping moments in the show, you can’t help but be captivated.
Likewise, Crawley is mesmerizing as Mary Poppins, a role she perfects. Her voice is silky smooth, and she has the right disposition for the magical nanny. Her Mary Poppins is firm, yet gentle, and she has the right amount of attitude to make being “Practically Perfect” believable.
In the recent movie Saving Mr. Banks, Disney makes it clear that Travers intended Mary Poppins to teach the parents as well as the children, and both William S. Murphey (Mr. Banks) and Liza Jaine (Winifred Banks) show the characters’ transitions well. Each one brings a sense of humanity to roles that elicits sympathy and compassion for them.
For the performance that I saw, the adorable Mabel Tyler (Jane) and Joseph Masson (Michael) played the children. Each one impressively displays their talent, especially with their subtle characterizations. In addition, Heidi Cline McKerley (Katie Nanna, Miss Andrew, Queen Victoria) and Googie Uterhardt (Admiral Boom, Chairman) are hilarious and memorable in multiple roles.
Visually, the production is equally captivating. Shannon Robert’s intricate set, Jen MacQueen’s energetic choreography, and Sydney Roberts’ bright costumes all come together in the spectacular “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” number. While it lacks the sheer volume of the Broadway version, it makes up for it with its energy, making it the musical’s other showstopper.
A jolly good time, Mary Poppins plays through August 31, 2014 at Aurora Theatre in Lawrenceville. For tickets and more information, please visit the theater’s website. The show’s runtime is a little over two and half hours with an intermission.
– Kenny Norton