Mary Poppins

December 18 - January 3
Buskirk-Chumley Theater

H-T Review

 

‘Mary Poppins’: Family fun with humor, pizzazz

By Matthew Waterman
December 22, 2015

Mary Poppins

Jeremy Hogan | Herald-Times: Elaine Cotter plays Mary Poppins, Lucia Walker is Jane Banks, and Ian Shaw is Michael Banks, for the Cardinal Stage production of “Mary Poppins.”

Everyone’s favorite magical English nanny came to the big screen for the first time in 1964, but Mary Poppins has remained in the consciousness of every generation since.

While 1964 was the premiere of the famous Walt Disney film (which received more Academy Award nominations than any other Disney film to date), Mary Poppins first came into existence as the title character of a 1934 children’s book by P.L. Travers. That book would be the first of eight in a series that Travers did not finish until 1988.

The Mary Poppins phenomenon has been reinvigorated in recent years by the 2013 Disney film “Saving Mr. Banks,” which depicted Walt Disney’s struggle to obtain adaptation rights to “Mary Poppins.”

Before that, in 2004, the first ever stage adaptation of “Mary Poppins” had its West End premiere. The show then came to Broadway in 2006, garnering seven Tony nominations.

Cardinal Stage Company presents that adaptation as its annual family holiday musical in the Buskirk-Chumley Theater. The musical, directed here by Randy White, amalgamates some material from Travers’ book series with some from the 1964 movie.

The show opens on George and Winifred Banks in a state of desperation over how to manage their unruly children, Jane and Michael. The troublemaking kids concoct a newspaper advertisement seeking a nanny fit to their preferences. Before there’s any time to write up a new ad, Mary Poppins arrives at the Banks residence.

Mary Poppins 2

Jeremy Hogan | Herald-Times: Lucia Walker is Jane Banks, right, and Ian Shaw is Michael Banks in “Mary Poppins.” Cardinal Stage is celebrating its 10th year of producing family shows for the holidays.

After easily securing the job as nanny to Jane and Michael, Mary wastes no time in imparting valuable life lessons. She takes the children to the park, where they meet Bert, the show’s disheveled quasi-narrator and jack-of-all-trades, and Mary teaches Jane and Michael to look past appearances.

While Mary deals with the children, George struggles at work. George is a banker faced with a decision between granting a loan to Von Hussler, a man with a heartless scheme for financial footwork, and Northbrook, a man proposing a simple factory. Reflecting on the values he held as a young man, George chooses Northbrook. However, George’s boss does not approve, and he is suspended without pay, with the threat of a complete firing hanging over his head.

When Mary Poppins takes off temporarily, Winifred calls in Miss Andrew, George’s formidable childhood nanny. Miss Andrew’s cold, tyrannical treatment of the children sends them running to the park, where they meet up with Bert and are reunited with Mary Poppins.

Mary Poppins is played warmly yet primly by Elaine Cotter. Cotter’s voice is gorgeous and perfectly suited to the role.

The other principal roles are all convincingly played. Reid Henderson makes an engaging quasi-narrator as Bert. Steven Strafford is appropriately unpleasant as George. Maria Walker sings exquisitely as Winifred.

Avery Njau and Ian Shaw performed the roles of Jane and Michael quite well in the opening matinee. The child roles are double-cast, so audience members wishing to see a specific child performer should check the cast schedule online at cardinalstage.org.

The production features a large and talented supporting ensemble of adults and children, with Shannon O’Connor Starks as Mrs. Brill, Lisa Kurz as Miss Andrews and Matthew Weidenbener as Robertson Ay.

The dancing, choreographed by Diane Buzzell, is a highlight in “Mary Poppins.” An unfortunate drawback is that the actors’ speech is frequently difficult to understand, due to the fast pace, English dialects and persistent underscoring.

As is to be expected of any Cardinal Stage holiday show, the production is elaborate. “Mary Poppins” incorporates countless sets (designed by C. David Higgins) and costumes (designed by Johna Sewell).

“Mary Poppins” is a fun family outing, with plenty to offer kids, parents and grandparents. This year is no exception to the humor and pizzazz Cardinal’s holiday musicals are known for.

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Jeremy Hogan | Herald-Times: Elaine Cotter plays Mary Poppins, Lucia Walker is Jane Banks, and Ian Shaw is Michael Banks, for the Cardinal Stage production of “Mary Poppins.”