Entertainment » Music

Mary Poppins

by Joshua Smalley
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Dec 14, 2015
Mary Poppins

After a sold out five-weekend run last year, Disney and Cameron Mackintosh's "Mary Poppins," a musical based on the stories of P.L. Travers and the Walt Disney film, returns to the Beck Center's stage this holiday season. The production is strongly helmed by director Scott Plate with solid musical direction from Larry Goodpaster.

On Broadway, the adaptation ran for over 2,500 performances and received nominations for seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Featuring narrative nuances and additional songs that do not appear in the 1964 film, this musical version is faithful to its source material with a bit of a darker and more grounded twist.

The familiar story follows the unsettled Banks family, who fall into some conventional tropes: the stiff and distanced father, the worried and apologetic mother, and the rude, troublesome children. When their previous nanny has had enough with the "wicked" Jane and Michael, in comes Mary Poppins on the Banks' doorstep, magically within seconds. She takes the children under her wing, and expresses timeless wisdom that comes to affect the entire family.

The musical adaptation has some surprisingly frightening moments, such as the song "Playing the Game," where Jane and Michael's toys come alive and taunt them. One of the strengths of this version is its greater focus on Mr. and Mrs. Banks' difficulties in addition to the children's adventures. It is the story of a family becoming better, both as people and as a unit.

The ensemble features many returning performers from last year's production, including Matthew Ryan Thompson as Bert, Curt Arnold and Katherine DeBoer as Mr. and Mrs. Banks, and Rebecca Pitcher as the nanny herself. Thompson's Bert is fun and uninhibited in his physical choices, which contrasts nicely with Pitcher's sense of discipline and control that makes her moments of wonder shine.

Pitcher is a Northeast Ohio native and is best known for her role as Christine Daaé in Broadway's "The Phantom of the Opera." Arnold and DeBoer have good chemistry together and are believable throughout. DeBoer is smooth and natural in her portrayal of Mrs. Banks and is certainly a highlight of the show.

Overall, the music is solid and orchestrated well, with the ensemble strong and consistent. Choreography by Martín Céspedes is simple, but effective within the space. "Jolly Holiday" and "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" particularly sparkled, highlighted by bright and colorful costumes designed by Aimee Kluiber.

Following the direction established last year, the production is a technical achievement. The stage design by Jeff Herrmann features a simple London skyline with a striking array of white umbrellas hovering in the sky above it. Beautiful, cartoon-styled landscapes and animations projected onto the umbrellas give each scene a distinct sense of place.

Projection designer Mike Tutaj creates memorable moments, such as Mr. Banks tearing the children's nanny advertisement, throwing the pieces out the front door, and the audience watching them fly across the umbrella-projections.

The stage is framed with multiple proscenium arches, and the outermost arch continues the motif with a couple white umbrellas placed along it. Scenes are staged simply, with sets flying in and out of the wings quick and smooth. The lighting, also by Herrmann, complements the design and the performers well.

Simplicity and sureness of direction keep this presentation of "Mary Poppins" more realistic and grounded than its film-counterpart, but not without appropriate flashes of fun and wonder. The staging is full and colorful, the space well made use of, and the performers brimming with energy. Director Scott Plate understands his audience and caters to them well. This is one not only for the kids, but for the adults, too.

"Mary Poppins" runs through Jan. 3, 2016 at Beck Center for the Arts' Mackey Theater, 17801 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, OH. For information or tickets, call 216-521-2540 or visit beckcenter.org.

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