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Nov. 9 2010 12:00 AM

Marvelous 'Mary Poppins' soars at Wharton Center

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    (Tuesday, Nov. 9) In the most
    delightful way, “Mary Poppins” provides a lot of sugar and very little
    medicine.


    A fantastical Broadway musical about a nanny with magic powers, “Mary
    Poppins” is thankfully not a direct screen-to-stage adaptation of the 1964
    classic film. Instead, the script by Julian Fellows returns to the source,
    drawing new story points and characters from the original Mary Poppins books by
    P.L. Travers. Fans of the film need not worry as the most popular Sherman and Sherman
    songs still remain such as “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” “A Spoonful of Sugar,” “Feed
    the Birds” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” The result is a fresh take
    on an iconic character — reverent to and distinct from the film, and just as
    magical.


    “Mary Poppins”
    imagines a storybook London, before air raids and after French Impressionism. In
    the Banks household, the financier father focuses on his work instead of his
    children, the mother questions her identity within the family dynamic, and the
    two spoiled children tear through nannies while seeking attention from their
    father. When the children's hand-written advertisement for a new nanny is
    magically discovered by the umbrella-wielding Mary Poppins, the Banks’ home and
    its inhabitants begin their slow yet steady march toward “happily ever after.”


    Understudy Elizabeth
    Broadhurst performed the title character at the Sunday matinee and proved why
    she was capable of filling in at any time. Although every grin, step and
    comedic aside has been meticulously choreographed, Broadhurst’s performance is
    anything but mechanical.


    Nicolas Dromard
    plays Poppins’ suitor and friend Bert with genuine glee as he steps in time
    across the stage and, at one point, all around the proscenium during the song
    “Step In Time.” While their characters are based at least in part on Julie
    Andrews and Dick Van Dyke's performances, Dromard and Broadhurst escape
    accusations of imitation by embodying the characters themselves. Their
    characters may be innocent and idealistic, but so is the musical and, within
    that world, Dromard and Broadhurst develop their characters completely.


    Michael and Jane
    (played Sunday by Talon Ackerman and Paige Simunovich, respectively) are spoiled
    children with simple desires. Toys and magical nannies apparently are not
    enough as long as their father sees them as a decorative inconvenience.
    Ackerman and Simunovich each have impressive voices in addition to their
    natural sibling-like chemistry.


    Laird Mackintosh as George Banks skillfully hides the frightened child under the strict
    father leading to the show’s most redeeming (if implausible) transformation.


    Vocally, the show’s
    most impressive moments come from George’s old nanny Miss Andrew, played by
    Ellen Harvey. As the show’s one true villain — Poppins’ evil alter-ego — Miss
    Andrew sings of “Brimstone and Treacle” instead of “A Spoonful of Sugar.”
    Harvey’s theatrical antics and powerful voice make her character a formidable
    foe even if only featured.


    The show’s greatest
    strengths are in the spectacle from strong stagecraft visual effects, vibrant
    colors in the sets and costumes designed by Bob Crowley, and precise, athletic
    choreography. The Banks' home folds out like a pop-up book, constant set
    changes are dropped in and lifted out with smooth efficiency, and, of course,
    characters fly. At two hours and 45 minutes, “Mary Poppins” feels a little
    overstuffed, but one certainly does not feel cheated.


    With a tone closer to
    classic Disney rather than “new” Disney, “Mary Poppins” is fun for all ages,
    playing to the child inside of everyone.


    ‘Mary Poppins’
    Through Sunday, Nov. 21
    Wharton Center
    1:30 p.m. Nov. 4; 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and
    Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 2 p.m. and Saturdays; 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sundays.
    $27-$132.50
    (800) WHARTON
    www.whartoncenter.com