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Mary Poppins was always my parents' favorite Disney movie. As a child, I remember watching it, seeing the magic of the animated sequences, experiencing joy listening to the musical numbers, and wondering how Julie Andrews' reflection sang when the real Julie Andrews didn't in the "Spoonful of Sugar" sequence. My parents saw a different story, and as I grew older, I began to undertand the Mary Poppins they saw. Twin City Stage's production of the musical adaptation of Mary Poppins, now running through April 12, manages to bring out the adult themes of P.L. Travers’ original story while delivering family friendly musical numbers that burst with life and energy.
The story of the practically perfect nanny and her handling of the seemingly mischievous children Jane and Michael has become timeless throughout the decades with its message to children that growing up does not mean not having an imagination. For adults, the story of father George Banks and his wife, Winifred Banks, was an almost cautionary tale about neglect and the dangers of spending too much time on work and not on family.
Director Maureen Daly understands both of these messages; she and music director Margaret B. Gallagher have assembled a multi-talented cast able to deliver these messages with heart and charm. Ashleigh Cooper, a sassy and proper Mary Poppins, brought freshness to the role that was in no way an imitation of or homage to Julie Andrews's performance. Dru Billings, a charming Bert, led the "Step in Time" tap number with skill, though his voice fell a bit flat in some of the "Chim Chim Cher-ee" reprises, which might have been due to over-amplification of the orchestra.
Troy Hurst's George Banks was tough on the outside and soft on the inside. He did a wonderful job with the character by not playing his softness as a weakness, an easy trap to fall into, but instead created a recognizable arc for his character. The final moments of the play, Mr. Banks with his children, was a moving scene of a father's selflessness. Shannon Brooke Lashley's Winifred Banks was multi-layered and sympathetic, though never pathetic. The script’s author, Julian Fellowes, wrote Mrs. Banks a compelling character arc, and Lashley performed it with great gusto. Other standouts included Suzanne Vaughan as a deadpan, hilarious Mrs. Brill and her assistant Robert Ay, played with a charming neebishness by Tyler Lashley.
Choreography by Benji Starcher broke the norms of musical theatre conventions, mixing Fosse with vaudeville tap near flawlessly, from number to number. Margaret Gallagher's pit ensemble played accurately, though they had some trouble adjusting to the dancer's rhythms (or vice versa) in some of the exposed numbers. Gallagher's singers almost never stopped singing and were always underscored by musical accompaniment; the vocalists' endurance must be credited to the music director's abilities to get the best out of her singers. (Complete credits for the show can be found here.)
The production had a multitude of surprises in the sets, props, and tech elements. And while opening night had some light cues called too quickly and stagehands were seen rolling out sets after the musical interludes, I know from community theatre experience that these things will be worked out.
Director Daly and Twin City Stage's production of Mary Poppins goes a lot deeper than a conventional production would. This is, I think, because the entire cast and ensemble found the heart that lies at the center of the show and displayed it in every line, spoken and sung. By the end of the night, once you have wiped away your tears, you remember that this is a story for both children and adults that becomes more timeless with each passing day. I think I finally understand why my parents preferred it over The Lion King.
As noted, the show continues through April 12. For details, see the sidebar.