Kayla James takes over Mary Poppins umbrella in style

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      A musical based on the stories of P.L. Travers and the Walt Disney film. Original music and lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman. Book by Julian Fellowes. New songs and additional music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. Directed by Bill Millerd. At the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage on Sunday, December 11. Continues until January 1

      Stepping into the role of Mary Poppins is never an easy task. There’s the expectation to match or at least come close to reaching the standards of Julie Andrews. But in the Arts Club’s current remount of Disney’s Mary Poppins, actress Kayla James also had the challenge of living up to Sara-Jeanne Hosie’s acclaimed performances from previous seasons. Fortunately for audiences this holiday season, James is phenomenal as the iconic English nanny who flies through the sky with her umbrella and changes lives one household at a time.

      James’s impeccable vocal delivery and dance ability (right down to each finger movement) all scream Disney. And that’s really the point. The show’s story, which of course closely resembles that of the 1964 film, isn’t genius or groundbreaking. The story of an overworked banker detached from his family, who eventually realizes what matters most in life, is about as deep as the many Hallmark movies you can find on Netflix.

      But the show radiates Disney’s trademark sentimental qualities, and at this time of the year, that’s the stuff many audiences crave. Thus, when James gracefully carries herself across the stage, singing and dancing her way through “Practically Perfect” and “A Spoonful of Sugar”, you can bet she’s captivating a number of children and adults alike.

      James has a commanding presence right from the start, when she abruptly appears in the Banks family home. Her stern eyes and authoritative speech as she checks off her credentials against young Jane and Michael’s ideal-nanny list would make it difficult for anyone to challenge her. But she balances this hard persona with her softer side in numbers such as “Anything Can Happen”. And if that isn’t enough, James also tap dances her way through “Step in Time”, proving she is a triple threat not to be messed with.

      The show is visually a dream. Alison Green’s set design brings memorable locales from the film to life through a series of gorgeous backdrops and scrims as well as slick, well-timed moving set pieces. Green’s use of pastel colours and fine details, combined with Marsha Sibthorpe’s lighting, transforms the Stanley stage into one of Thomas Kinkade’s glowing larger-than-life Disney portraits.

      David Cooper

      Despite the dated story line, which is set in early-20th-century London, Caitriona Murphy’s performance as the children’s mother, Winifred Banks, who fights to gain an identity outside of being the wife of George Banks, will hit an emotional chord with audiences. Her compelling rendition of “Being Mrs. Banks” is memorable.

      Also noteworthy is Valerie Easton’s choreography, which includes delightful soft-shoe and ballet-inspired movement in “Jolly Holiday” and high-energy fun in “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and the show-stopping “Step in Time”, which features some impressive tap dancing. Easton’s troupe of hoofers (such as Scott Augustine as the Gene Kelly–like statue come to life, Neleus; the acrobatic Keiran Bohay, who tumbles while chimney-sweeping; and the balletic Brianne Loop, who extends her legs to the heavens while posing as a Greek-mythology statue) helps make this production a rousing piece of musical-theatre spectacle.