note: entire contents copyright 2016 by Sheila Barth
Like the show’s magical character, Bill Hanney’s North Shore Music Theatre (NSMT) production of beloved Disney musical, “Mary Poppins,” appearing through July 31, is practically perfect in every way.
It’s enchanting, charming, magical, musical, merry, and marvelous, thanks to visionary Hanney and director-choreographer Kevin P. Hill.
Portraying Mary Poppins, Kerry Conte is ideally confident, charming, her chemistry likable, with child actors Jake Ryan Flynn (fourth-grader from Danvers) and Scarlett-Keene Connole of Newport, and her exuberant co-star Brad Bradley, portraying Bert.
Besides Mary and her signature umbrella flying through the air on stage and above the crowd, an old salt, Admiral Boom (Al Bundonis, who also portrays the staid bank chairman) steers his “ship” and booms hearty hellos from his perch amidst the audience. Chimney sweeps tapdance on chimney rooftops, surrounded by theatergoers, and the bungling butler faints at theatergoers’ feet, until Mary revives him.
But that’s only the beginning. Theatergoers must be vigilant, their eyes and ears honed everywhere, to not miss a magical moment.
There are surprises on stage, too, as it spins at times, like a turntable. Huge props like beds, sofas, and actors elevate and descend from the center stage lift. Others float onstage, on movable platforms near the aisles; while lucky theatergoers are within reach of Mary Poppins & Co. throughout the show.
As in all North Shore Music Theatre musical extravaganzas, the actors frequently line the stationary aisles,too, interacting with theatergoers, immersing them in this whimsical fantasy.
Remember, the show’s theme is “Anything can happen if you let it,” and NSMT ensures everything happens “in the most delightful way”.
Music Conductor Milton Granger on keyboard and his fantastic musicians make every song “a jolly holiday” with Mary. Daniel Erdberg’s sound design and Martin E. Vreeland’s mystical lighting are eye-popping, too, whether it’s a starry sky, grim, turn-of-the-century London bank office, contrasting dusk/daylight romps in the park, or fantasy-filled children’s room as their abused toys animatedly emerge, human size.
The show’s most spectacular number, though, is the cast’s second-act splendiferous tap dance,”Step in Time,” where audience and ensemble alike are catapulted to London’s rooftops.
The technical staff seamlessly transitions scenes, from a poignant, sad,bird woman’s plea to “Feed the birds, tuppance a bag,” (terrific Ellen Petersen, who also portrays Mrs. Brill, the Banks’ housekeeper-cook), to Mrs. Corry’s colorful, circus-y,calico classroom of letters and words, as she merrily teaches her exuberant students and Jane and Michael Banks a new word - “Supercalafragilisticexpialidocious”. Janelle A. Robinson’s voice soars in her dual roles as Mrs. Corry and horrible nanny, Miss Andrew, who terrified her charges, specifically, the children’s father, George Banks (James Andrew Walsh). Miss Andrews ingrained in George his stolid life’s credo - “Precision and order,” which he imposes on his unruly kids.
Mary Poppins’ second-act ”Spoonful of Sugar” sparring bout with tyrannical foil Andrews wielding her horrid “Brimstone and Treacle,” is sensational.
Portraying Winifred Banks, aformer actress, patient wife and mother, Molly Garner is gracious and loving.
Mary Poppins‘ initial walk in the park with the reluctant, bratty Banks kids and Bert, the affable, ubiquitous chimney sweep, turns into a magical fairyland. A statue talks, jumps from his pedestal, dancing, leaping, while telling the children he misses his father, Poseidon, because of distance. Bert Scott’s clever set rapidly transforms from a bleak evening to bright sunshine, as candy-stripe-garbed dancers twirl and frolic with gussied-up Bert and Mary.
Aided by ZFX Inc. flying effects, anchored by wires, Bert maneuvers a gravity-defying walk on a (prop) wall, the ceiling, and stage.
Brian Padgett adds levity as the Banks’ bungling butler, Robertson Ay and Brad Trump is stunningly balletic as statue Neleus, while the energetic ensemble add superb back-up.
Besides the dazzling technical effects, memorable songs and dances, this production emphasizes the story’s life lessons:parents should spend more time with their kids, take time to smell the roses, or, better yet, fly a kite together.
Also, philosophically, you win over more people with a spoonful of sugar than bitterness.
Listen carefully. Don’t be status-conscious like George Banks.
Mary’s and Bert’s lessons - to look beyond what you see, especially a person’s appearance - resonates strongly, too; but most importantly, regardless of age, dare to dream. Your wish just may come true!
Last Thursday, when I saw “Mary Poppins,” headlines blazed with the disastrous news about the hideous terror attack in Nice, France, on Bastille Day, that killed at least 80 people and injured countless others, many of them children.
The news didn’t deter theatergoers’ joy, though. “Mary Poppins” theatergoers left, smiling, chatting happily, with a lilt to their feet, joy in their heart, and hope for tomorrow.