Monday, April 10, 2017

Review of Mary Poppins at Mercury Theater Chicago

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Mary Poppins. It was based on the stories of P. L. Travers and the Walt Disney film. The book was Julian Fellowes. The original music and lyrics were by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman. New songs and additional music and lyrics were by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. It was directed by L. Walter Stearns. It was choreographed by Brenda Didier and the music direction was by Eugene Dizon. It was about the Banks family, George (Kevin McKillip), Winifred (Cory Goodrich), Jane (Sage Harper when I saw it; Pearle Bramlett at other performances) and Michael (Casey Lyons when I saw it; Peyton Owen at other performances), who wanted the perfect nanny. And then one flies from the sky, and that nanny is Mary Poppins (Nicole Armold). She teaches the whole family to take everything with a spoonful of sugar, basically not to be so pessimistic. It is about family, not worrying about respectability, and enjoying life.

I absolutely loved Armold in the role of Mary Poppins. She was so poised and upright but never stiff. She was gently sarcastic in a humorous way. Everything she did, she did with some flair. You can understand why everyone loves Mary so much, as you can see in "Jolly Holiday" and basically any song where Mary Poppins steps outside. Whenever Mary was around, Bert (Matt Crowle) seemed dazed and it was adorable. They had great chemistry on stage. You also kind of feel bad for Bert because Mary likes him back but she is like a goddess so she can't really have a mortal boyfriend. Maybe she has love interests in every town she goes to like Zeus.

My favorite song was "Brimstone and Treacle." I thought Miss Andrew (Holly Stauder) did a really great job with the vocals. Most of the time I really love villains in musicals and this is no exception. She rocked the part and made me want Miss Andrew to have more stage time. When she has her showdown with Mary Poppins in the reprise, it is like they are polar opposites. Good vs. evil, sugar vs. treacle, and rum punch vs. brimstone. It was so cool when they faced off. When you think of Mary Poppins you don't think of epic battles, but there sure is one. Mary Poppins and Miss Andrew both had flair, but different kinds. Miss Andrew's was more like terror flair.

I usually really like productions of big musicals in smaller spaces; you feel closer to the characters and you feel more of the action. The danger with doing Mary Poppins that way, though, is that the magical elements can seem fake. I felt like the cake in "Spoonful of Sugar," the hatstand and mirror from Mary's carpet bag, and the birds were all victims of unmagicalness. There was also a moment where the ensemble was using lights to be stars. The whole ensemble was dressed in black except for their faces. I think that if they had worn masks it might have been more magical because you wouldn't see the floating heads. Floating heads can be magical, but I don't think that's what Mary Poppins had in mind when she took the children for their final goodbye in "Anything Can Happen."

People who would like this show are people who like spoonfuls of sugar, gentle sarcasm, and epic nanny battles. The singing and the performances are great, and I think this is a really fun script.

Photos: Brett A. Beiner

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