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Practically perfect

Marvelous 'Mary Poppins' soars at Wharton Center


(Tuesday, Nov. 9) In the mostdelightful way, “Mary Poppins” provides a lot of sugar and very littlemedicine.

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

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

Understudy ElizabethBroadhurst performed the title character at the Sunday matinee and proved whyshe was capable of filling in at any time. Although every grin, step andcomedic aside has been meticulously choreographed, Broadhurst’s performance isanything but mechanical.

Nicolas Dromardplays Poppins’ suitor and friend Bert with genuine glee as he steps in timeacross 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 JulieAndrews and Dick Van Dyke's performances, Dromard and Broadhurst escapeaccusations of imitation by embodying the characters themselves. Theircharacters may be innocent and idealistic, but so is the musical and, withinthat world, Dromard and Broadhurst develop their characters completely.

Michael and Jane(played Sunday by Talon Ackerman and Paige Simunovich, respectively) are spoiledchildren with simple desires. Toys and magical nannies apparently are notenough as long as their father sees them as a decorative inconvenience.Ackerman and Simunovich each have impressive voices in addition to theirnatural sibling-like chemistry.

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

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

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

With a tone closer toclassic 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 andThursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 2 p.m. and Saturdays; 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sundays.


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