2017-07-13 / Arts & Entertainment News

Mary’s simply magical in Broadway Palm’s ‘Mary Poppins’


Attention: Mary Poppins has flown into town; be sure not to miss her while she’s here.

She’s dropped into 17 Cherry Tree Lane (at the Broadway Palm) to straighten out some unruly, ungrateful children, and bring the Banks family closer together.

“Mary Poppins” is an ambitious musical for the theater to put on — for any theater to put on. After all, this is a world where toys and stone statues come to life, cakes decorate themselves and a certain special nanny flies through the sky. There’s a vast array of characters and special effects galore.

But the Broadway Palm and its talented cast and crew handle it all marvelously.

Mary Poppins (Melissa Whitworth) shows up fairly early in the musical. The actress shares Julie Andrews’s delicate features, so if we use the 1964 Disney movie as a reference (rather than the books), she looks exactly how Mary Poppins should look.

Mary Poppins arrives, with (from left) top row: Kylan Ritchie as Jane Banks and Liam Hutt as Michael Banks; bottom row: Meagan Mapson as Mrs. Brill, James Taylor Odom as George Banks, Melissa Whitworth as Mary Poppins, Desirée Dillon as Winifred Banks and Danny Boman as Robertson Ay. 
COURTESY PHOTOS Mary Poppins arrives, with (from left) top row: Kylan Ritchie as Jane Banks and Liam Hutt as Michael Banks; bottom row: Meagan Mapson as Mrs. Brill, James Taylor Odom as George Banks, Melissa Whitworth as Mary Poppins, Desirée Dillon as Winifred Banks and Danny Boman as Robertson Ay. COURTESY PHOTOS This is Ms. Whitworth’s third production as the famous British nanny, and she’s the perfect marriage of no-nonsense and nonsensical. She also sings like a dream, to boot, and makes it all look effortless. By the time she’s pulled a 5-foot coat rack, an oversized potted plant and a cup of tea from her carpetbag, we’ve fallen under her spell.

George Banks (James Taylor Odom), the father, may sing of “precision and order,” but Mary Poppins is the one who has it all under control.

Chris Duir does a great job as Bert, the chimney sweep. His Bert’s a likeable guy, not half as goofy as Dyke Van Dyke is in the movie. Mr. Duir plays him more like a person than a caricature and — thank God — doesn’t overdo it with the Cockney accent. As a child, I thought Bert and Mary were an item, but as seen in this stage production, he respects her and has a crush on her. And while she’s friendly, Mary seems to keep him at arm’s length.

A scene from “Step In Time.” A scene from “Step In Time.” “Step In Time,” danced up on the London rooftops among the chimneys with the ensemble all dressed as chimney sweeps, is one of the show’s outstanding numbers. This big, infectious, lively song is a tap-dancing extravaganza.

This stage show veers from the movie in some places. Mrs. Banks is no longer a suffragette, fighting for the women’s vote and equal rights. Bert is not a one-man band. And Mary and the children don’t visit Uncle Albert, who floats to the top of the ceiling like a helium balloon when he laughs.

Some of the original songs from the movie (by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman) are included — some adapted, and some new songs by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe are added.

Don’t worry; old favorites such as “A Spoonful of Sugar,” “Chim Chim Cheree,” “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” are still there, though maybe not all in the places they used to be.

Director Ryan Gibbs and choreographer/ associate director Samantha Hews Cramer do a smart job with this show, getting the tone just right and presenting a fresh, bright picture of Mary Poppins. Mr. Gibbs has cast children who are skilled actors, not just kids who are cute and adorable. Kylan Ritchie and Liam Hutt played Jane and Michael Banks, respectively, on opening night. (They alternate shows with Ava Stroeberl and Nicholas Salerno.)

During the show, an interesting thing happened: Mary Poppins’ hat was knocked askew during a dance number. The actress tried to quickly reattach it, and failed. A little later, she handed her umbrella to Mr. Hutt, who stayed in character and acted as if it were part of the script. She matter-of-factly re-affixed her hat, and when the two crossed paths again, received her umbrella back.

There’s not a weak link in the group. Megan Mapson and Danny Boman as the cook and houseboy are also outstanding, as they try to deal with the strange goings-on in the Bank household.

The role of Mrs. Banks is more of a thankless job in this stage version, but Desirée Dillon makes the best of it, finally asserting herself in the end. She’s no longer a suffragette, but a displaced actress trying to win her husband’s love and control her unruly children. And Mr. Odom as Mr. Banks is much more interested in his job than in his wife or children.

The ensemble doesn’t get much rest, as they are constantly called upon to be onstage in various numbers as large dolls, Londoners in a park, bankers or chimney sweeps. Many play multiple roles, including Jen Hope, who plays Katie Nanna (a good-natured nanny who leaves the Banks), Miss Andrew (an evil nanny) and the Bird Woman, who sings “Feed the Birds.”

There are so many big production numbers in this musical that it’s difficult to name them all. The staid banker’s number (“Precision and Order”) is a great contrast to the outrageousness of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”

The costumes, by John P. White, are wildly creative, whether they’re stone statues, adult-sized toys, or customers and clerks in Mrs. Corry’s magical shop where people can buy words. I adored the two giant dancing penguins in “Jolly Holiday.” For some reason, they just made me laugh.

While this is a light-hearted show, it also has its messages, including “Anything can happen if you let it.” Though family friendly, some scenes may be too intense for very young children. (The original West End production banned children 3 and younger, saying the show was for best for children 7 and older.)

The special effects are quite amazing; it’s one thing to see something occur on screen, but a definite challenge to make magic happen on a stage. Mary Poppins even flies in a couple of scenes (though if you sit in the very front of the theater, you can see the wires and mechanics that make it happen, unfortunately, spoiling the spell).

“Mary Poppins” is one of the best shows I’ve seen produced at the Broadway Palm. Go see it — it’s a joyous, magical show that will make you feel like a child again. ¦

‘Mary Poppins: The Musical’

>> When: through Aug. 12

>> Where: Broadway Palm, 1380 Colonial Blvd., Fort Myers

>> Cost: $40 to $65 ($20 for children 18 or younger)

>> Info: 278-4422, www.broadwaypalm.com

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