Disney & Cameron Mackintosh
Directed by Gene Abravaya
Music Direction by Tina Lloyd Meals
Choreography by Michella Snider
For tickets / schedule :
Spreckels Performing Arts Center
Rohnert Park, CA
Spreckels Theatre Company
RUN: May 8-24, 2015
RATING: 3.5 of 5 stars
(May 8, 2015)
Based on the P.L. Travers books and Walt Disney Film, the musical was created in 2002 by producer Cameron Mackintosh with the Sherman brothers, book by Julian Fellowes, and additional songs by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. The West End premiere was in 2004, and it is delightful to have a production close to home in the North Bay. The stage musical addresses darker issues than the film, such as child abuse from the “holy terror” nanny of Mr. Banks younger years, and whether Mrs. Banks’ only role is to stay at home, quietly doing her husbands bidding, or forging her own path as an equal partner with him in life. The characters are mature and well rounded with their own stories to tell, rendering a richer version of the story, which I found refreshing and thought provoking.
The magic of Mary Poppins is brought to life on stage using clever effects; I was pleased to find the carpet bag sequence in the theatrical production, along with Mary’s signature umbrella flight. The songs are a mix of Disney favorites and originals, flowing well together, and occasionally operatic in tone, such as Brimstone and Treacle. The sets were exquisite, although the constant change in location felt disruptive.
One of my favorite sequences in Mary Poppins Opens the Door was included in the musical version. A park statue of Neleus comes to life and spends the day with Jane and Michael. For a quick Greek mythology refresher, Neleus is the son of Tyro and Poseidon, god of the sea. Tyro was in love with a handsome river god, Enipeus, who rejected her, but Poseidon became infatuated and disguised himself as Enipeus to win her favor. After a series of adventures, Neleus was murdered by Heracles (Hercules). In the Mary Poppins book, he is a young boy of Jane’s age who is lonely, after having been pried off a plinth with his father and shipped to stand in an English park. She brings him to life, giving him one day as a mortal. In the Spreckels production, actor Ayrick Broin is much older than the original story, acting as a kindly adult figure like Bert (Dominic Williams) during a time when the children feel alienated and rejected by their father. The poor Park Keeper, Smith, is flummoxed by the disappearing statue, a sequence rendered hilarious by the comic genius of Benjamin Sweeney Acedo.
Heather Buck as Mary Poppins is stunning and indeed practically perfect in every way. Her poise is masterful, and singing as strong and elegant as Julie Andrews. Her character genuinely wishes to affect change for the better in her charges lives, although like the film, she is less severe than the book version of Mary. I was attending the first performance, and found she was still learning some of the dances, but her performance was exemplary in all other aspects of the production.
In a brief, yet memorable and moving role, Joan Hawley brought the Bird Woman to life on the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Winifred Banks (Sandy Riccardi) showed the struggle of her character to be someone she was not, gradually taking back her power as a strong woman who is beautiful as she truly is. Garet Waterhouse as George Banks was a believable overbearing father who blusters to cover up his own fear and loveless upbringing, which he claims made him the man he is today. Mary responds sadly, “Yes, I’m afraid it did.” Through her example and loving his children, he begins to make decisions based on how they affect people, not as abstract numbers at the bank. At first it appears these sentimental decisions will ruin him, but instead they lift him up. The supporting cast were fascinating, from the navy obsessed Admiral Boom (Dwayne Stincelli) to Miss Lark (Pam Koppel).
This is a loving rendition of the beloved musical, fun for the whole family, with magical moments for children and important life questions for adults. It blends the book and Disney film with alacrity, and for some of us it is a tearful and joy-filled revisiting of our childhood. Join Spreckels for an evening with Mary Poppins—practically perfect in every way.