Original music and lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman. Book by Julian Fellowes. Additional music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drew. Cocreated by Cameron Mackintosh. Directed by Shel Piercy. Musical direction by Wendy Bross Stuart. A Theatre Under the Stars production. At Malkin Bowl on Tuesday, July 11. Continues until August 18
Thank you, TUTS, for the first must-see show of the summer. And it’s a good thing Mary Poppins is being presented outdoors: no walls could contain the exuberance of this terrific production.
This 2004 adaptation, overseen by British superproducer Cameron Mackintosh, draws on both the 1964 Disney movie and the series of novels by P.L. Travers that inspired it. Devotees of the film will notice that songs have been rearranged, fitted out with new lyrics, or cut altogether—but there is no shortage here of fantastic numbers. The plot has also been updated to highlight the dysfunctional dynamics of the Banks family, who live in Edwardian London. Patriarch George is a workaholic financier who values “precision and order” and has no time for his family; his wife, Winifred, is a former actress (but not a suffragette) who can’t accommodate herself to the regimented social expectations of her class; and their children, Jane and Michael, long for more fun in their lives.
That fun shows up in the form of Mary Poppins, a firm but loving nanny whose spoonfuls of sugar can turn the most mundane activity into a truly magical experience. Along with her friend Bert, a jack-of-all-trades, she ends up having a profound effect on the family. And yes, she flies with her umbrella.
Director Shel Piercy’s production is a visual feast: throughout the evening, he arranges the cast of 34 into indelible stage pictures, sometimes frozen in stillness (as in the gorgeous life-size diorama of black-umbrella-toting city dwellers behind “Feed the Birds”), often wildly kinetic. Nicol Spinola’s inventive choreography makes the show’s big numbers utterly thrilling: check out the semaphore spelling in “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” or the acrobatic tap sequences of “Step in Time”. And “Jolly Holiday” pays loving homage to the film’s fantasy sequence by attaching a pair of penguins to Bert’s shoes.
The performances in this production are uniformly excellent. Victor Hunter’s creamy-voiced Bert is all charm and heart, and Ranae Miller is a terrific Mary: her unapologetic self-assurance and powerful, clear voice make her practically perfect indeed. As George, Russell Roberts has a stodgy irritability that gradually gives way to genuine vulnerability, while Lalainia Lindbjerg-Strelau gradually finds the steel at the core of Winifred’s warmth. Lola Marshall and Nolen Dubuc bring lovely voices and sharp comic timing to Jane and Michael. Sheryl Anne Wheaton and Andrea Pizarro create deliciously eccentric characters in Mrs. Brill, the cook, and Mrs. Corry, a shopkeeper. As the Bird Woman, Cecilia Smith’s physical frailty belies her powerful voice in one of the production’s most tender moments. Jaime Piercy also gets to show off her impressive vocal range as the villainous Miss Andrew, George’s terrifying childhood nanny.
The designers also deserve huge credit for the success of this production, which is often an explosion of colour. Set designer Brian Ball creates visual magic in the transformations of the Banks’s home and its rooftop chimneys, and there are simple but breathtaking effects—like a wash of starry sky or the sudden appearance of kites—throughout the evening. Costume designer Chris Sinosich makes use of exquisite period details in the hundred or so costumes she’s designed, from the muted greys and browns of the bankers to the pastels of “Jolly Holiday” and the psychedelically saturated hues of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”.
Everything about this production works. Don’t miss it.