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Mary Poppins

a Musical Comedy
by Julian Fellowes (Book) and songs by Richard M. Sherman & Robert B. Sherman and George Stiles & Anthony Drewe

COMPANY : Aurora Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Aurora Theatre [WEBSITE]
ID# 4606

SHOWING : July 17, 2014 - August 31, 2014



Recent Broadway sensation "Mary Poppins" opens Aurora’s 19th Season as the can’t-miss theatrical event for all ages. "Practically Perfect" Mary Poppins falls from the sky into the hearts of the dysfunctional Banks family. With the help of a carefree chimney sweep named Bert, she magically teaches them the immeasurable benefits of love, joy and mutual respect for one another. Produced with dazzling theatrical effects and a score that includes "Chim-Chim Cher-ee," "A Spoonful of Sugar" and "Step in Time," rediscover this Walt Disney classic.

Director Justin Anderson
Robertson Ay/Ensemble Dan Ford
Ensemble Casey Gardner
Michael Banks Benjamin Harding
Mrs. Banks Liza Jaine
Bert Andy Meeks
Mr. Banks Bill Murphey
Northbrook/Ensemble Robby Owenby
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No Mary Droppin’s
by playgoer
Monday, July 21, 2014
If you saw "Mary Poppins" on its post-Broadway tour at the Fox, you might want to skip Aurora’s stripped-down version. True, it’s the same script and the same songs, but the spectacle just isn’t there in sufficient quantity to really blow your socks off.

The aerial work in the show is fairly obvious. There’s a nice tap dance around the proscenium that at first sight of the set might not seem possible, but other than that it’s strictly obvious guy wires and straight upward crosses from one side of the stage to the other. At the Fox, Mary’s final flight took her over the audience into the balcony area. Not at the Aurora. She goes across the stage, then is let down immediately in the wings, her descending umbrella in full view of the left half of the audience. Talk about a let-down!

The first act similarly ends on a slightly sour note, with French doors in the set closed by a hand going through the supposed glass to grasp the frame and pull the doors to. Would a couple of knobs have disturbed Shannon Robert’s consciously skewed, hand-drawn set design concept? In such a comparatively intimate space, little things that might have slipped by at the Fox are in obvious view at Aurora.

Even the orchestral accompaniment at "Mary Poppins" isn’t up to the usual standards. There are occasional brass blats, and Daniel Terry’s over-amplified sound design hides nothing, except the diction of singers who attempt stage projection to counter the imbalance of the massed orchestral and choral sounds. I felt sorry for Galen Crawley, as Mary Poppins, who often seemed forced into a strident belt to be heard above the competing voices. Andy Meeks, as Bert, faced the same challenge, but held up well, though he was obviously taxing himself.

Ann-Carol Pence’s music direction is otherwise fine, with everyone in fine voice except the sometimes sour William S. Murphey as Mr. Banks. The children (Sarah Carroll and Benjamin Harding at the performance I saw) were in amazing voice, when both singing and speaking with wonderful British accents. The Mrs. Banks of Liza Jaine also shone. She would have made a great Mary Poppins herself, but Galen Crawley acquitted herself well in that role. Ms. Crawley excels at exuding a cool warmth that is perfectly suited to the character of Mary Poppins. Andy Meeks was absolutely terrific as Bert, moving the longish show along with good humor and verve.

There are some terrific performances in smaller roles too. Googie Uterhardt plays his multiple roles with scene-stealing abandon, and Heidi Cline McKerley is sheer evil perfection as Miss Andrew, hitting every note of her rangy song with power and conviction. Shelli Delgado sparkles in the ensemble, letting the audience feel her overwhelming pleasure at being onstage, and Joseph J. Pendergrast has some amazing dance moves (choreography by Jen MacQueen), while Robert Mitchel Owenby has some very pleasing solo lines. Jessica De Maria is energetically entertaining as Mrs. Brill, but gives the Bird Woman a belt that is slightly out of keeping with the sentiment of "Feed the Birds." Overall, the ensemble has a mismatched quality, with different sizes and shapes of people thrown together as partners.

Costumes, designed by Sydney Roberts, emphasize the variety of ensemble sizes and shapes in the brightly colored park costumes and disguise the variety in the black chimney sweeper costumes. Overall, the costumes are pleasing and well-tailored. The get-ups of the statues are terrifically rendered.

The lighting design of Mary Parker has a number of effects, with director Justin Anderson nicely coordinating an illusion near the end of green lights jumping from the thumbs of the ensemble into the sky. Unfortunately, illumination of a stained glass window in the Banks house set came and left a little late in comparison to the rest of a few scene changes.

The set consists of a London-ish skyline in the back, building-like wings, a faux stone proscenium, and a number of rolled-on set elements. Set changes go on a little long at times, but the director has managed them well, with Bert’s finger snaps setting new scenes in motion. It’s a long show, but moves along relatively smoothly. The smoothness is likely to increase as the run continues.

"Mary Poppins" was altered a good deal from the movie when modified for the stage, and most of the changes work dramatically. I particularly liked the sentiment conveyed by Mrs. Banks and by Neleus and Poseidon. There’s a lot of fun in the show, but there’s a lot of heart too. Aurora’s production may not rival the Fox’s, but it’s an entertaining few hours of musical comedy.


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