There are some distinct differences between the film version of Mary Poppins and the stage version. The stage version has a more complex story line for Mr. and Mrs. Banks and more magical mystery. When I first saw the stage version performed on another stage at another theater a few years ago I was disappointed. That production was a little dark and disturbing in parts and some of the unflappable energy that is inherently part of this well-loved story was missing.
However, USF put on an entirely different production, even though the scripting was the same. USF, along with director Karen Azenberg and a talented artistic staff and cast, proves that “Mary Poppins” can be as enchanting and bright, energetic and magical on stage as it is on film. I fell in love with every character in this play. Not one actor was miscast and not one voice was short on talent in this beautiful musical.
When the wind blows a confident, no-nonsense, magical Mary Poppins (Elizabeth Broadhurst) to Cherry Hill Lane, she is just in time to save the adorably mischievous Jane (Mila Bella Howells) and precocious Michael Banks (Andrew Barrick) from another terrible nanny. Broadhurst is the quintessential Mary Poppins from beginning to end. It is a joy to see all the different sides of her Poppins’ personality as she commands the stuffy and commanding Mr. Banks (Chris Mixon), flirts with her long-time friend Bert (Eddie Lopez), charms the Banks children and rouses a street party of gypsies to dance.
Lopez’s Bert brings an interesting layer of magic to this production. His mastery of so many professions and ability to always be in the right place at the right time with the right adventure led me to believe that perhaps this Bert originated from the same magical place as Mary Poppins. Lopez manages to keep all the expected fun and intrigue of Bert’s character while adding just a little bit more magical zing to the role.
It is hard to imagine how the limited stage and enclosed space of the Randall L. Jones Theatre could encompass the extravagance of this musical. I admit I was wary. There are some huge musical numbers and special effects components that go with “Mary Poppins.” But as I watched the rainy park scene transcend into a riot of color and dance, I was converted. “Mary Poppins” can be done in the Randall L. Jones Theatre in the most breathtaking way. Scenic Designer Jo Winiarski unfurls some surprises both on the stage and in the air above. Choreographer Lenny Daniel’s dance numbers do not disappoint especially in the delightful in sync song “Precision and Order” or the rousing favorite chimney sweep scene “Step in Time.” There were bright kites flying overhead, chimney sweeps in the balconies and whirling gypsies and Barrick and Howells as Michael and Jane kept up as professionally as any seasoned actor.
There were also moment of sweetness and depth found in the beautiful “Feed the Birds” scene and Winifred Banks’ (Susanna Florence) soul searching. Although Latoya Cameron’s voice and performance as the bird lady was absolutely beautiful, I kept finding myself falling in love with her intricate bag lady costume. In fact, all the costumes in the play were exquisite. Costume Designer Brenda Van der Wiel’s designs were “Spit Spot” and the “Spoonful of Sugar” that made this production of Mary Poppins “Practically Perfect” down to the very last detail.
I always choose one play to return and take my entire family to each year. Mary Poppins is a perfect family play for ages 4 to adult.