Not including the iconic 1964 Walt Disney film, this is the fourth production of Mary Poppins the musical I have had the pleasure to appreciate. With each new production, the scale reduces significantly in size. While the latest incarnation of this know-it-all-nanny is a little too big for its intimate staging, the delicious score remains firmly intact and a great pleasure to listen to. Director David E. Walters and choreographer Kevin Bellie both had their work cut out for them with a cast which, quite literally, was busting off the stage during the larger production numbers. Not perfect, or “Practically Perfect” as the song might suggest, there is still enough here to enchant. Credit that to the casting of the delightful and enchanting Kyrie Anderson as Ms. Poppins. Her lovely soprano and fair completion are a agreeable fit to the titular character. Even with the Nightblue Performing Arts Company tight budget, this Poppins indeed “flies” although you definitely see the strings. They are (almost) forgiven as I was also entranced by Austin Cook’s majestic music direction. Retained, the original music and lyrics from Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman with additional songs and lyrics by George Stiles, Anthony Drewe and an updated book by Julian Fellowes.
If you have never seen the film or any of the other staged productions, the story centers around the Banks family of Cherry Tree Lane. Tight lipped and orderly banker, George Banks (Joe Smith) and his adoring wife, Winifred Banks (MacKenzie Skye) are in desperate need of quality, full time childcare. It appears their rambunctious and raucous children, Jane Banks (Sage Harper) and Michael Banks (Liam Dahlborn) are more than a handful, chasing away numerous, exasperated nannies of all shapes and sizes. Enter the magical and magnificent Mary Poppins (Kyrie Anderson) and the children quickly fall into line. “You think you know everything” shouts Michael. “Of that we agree” quips Poppins. The remainder of the show is production number after production number of magical and memorable adventures and life lessons. A walk in the park becomes a “Jolly Holiday” with Mary and her crew of singing and dancing “passing statuary.” Baking is a snap with just a “Spoonful of Sugar” and Jack of all trades, Bert (Ryan Dooley) and his troupe of dancing chimney sweeps entertain with “Step In Time.” The strongest number, the energetic, animated and frenzied “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” of course.
Part of the appeal of the original staged production was the eye popping special effects. Sadly, that is lost here, with the exception of some impressive electronic back drops. If it can’t be done well, it is not worth doing, which takes me back to the “flying device” both clunky and noticeable. If the audience is also asked to “stretch your mind beyond fantastic, dreams are made of strong elastic” let’s have Poppins stand center stage and use the background projections to make it appear as though she is flying. This quick fix would improve the presentation immeasurably. However, once Anderson begins to sing, I forgave a lot of the shortcomings, inevitable by the physical constraints. What aids this production is the nostalgia the adult audience has with the characters and the actors who portrayed them. It is impossible to top Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, and I appreciate and applaud Anderson and Dooley for wisely not trying to do just that. Clocking in at just under two and a half hours, this production of Mary Poppins may be a little lengthy for the little ones. There were some kiddos asleep in the midst of act two on the night I attended, however I will never be the person to discourage well-mannered children from attending live theater. I think it is essential to cultivate and encourage young people and the performing arts, but with that said, the chairs at Stage 773 are not the most comfortable. They could most definitely use some “strong elastic” as well, so bring a seat cushion if you are so inclined.
Nightblue Performing Arts Company presents Mary Poppins is an ambitious project. Perhaps overly-ambitions. Intimately staged, though gratifyingly sung and performed, the choreography and score fill in where the script and staging lacks. Much like this very critic trying to fit back into jeans he once wore back in High School, this Poppins was busting out all over. A winning leading lady helps to raise the game across the board. I would suggest losing the “flying contraption” and spending that budget improving the surrounding bare bones, almost amateurish set and recycled costuming. The insert panels were both distracting and quite noticeable. “Brimstone and Treacle” to those powers that be. They should be told to “Go Fly A Kite.”
Nightblue Performing Arts Company presents Mary Poppins is now playing at Stage 773 through March 27, 2016