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Finally, a “modern” musical that respects its source material and doesn’t seem like a cheap knock-off created to cash in on its predecessors’ reputations and an audience’s nostalgia for them. Mary Poppins, director Gene Abravaya and the Spreckels Theatre Company’s latest offering in Rohnert Park, manages to honor both the P.L. Travers books and the Disney film. With a book by Julian Fellowes (better known today as the creator of Downton Abbey), this version succeeds by taking elements of the literary and cinematic texts and adapting them into a full-fledged theatrical production that manages to retain the heart and soul of the original works.
All the familiar characters are present – Mr. and Mrs. Banks (Garet Waterhouse, Sandy Wright Riccardi), their precocious/obnoxious children (Andi Luekens, Nicholas Sevier), various domestics (Karen Pinomaki, Tim Setzer, Mary Gannon Graham) and, of course, Mary Poppins (Heather Buck) and her friend Bert (Dominic Williams).
The stage play is not a simple recreation of the film and there are significant differences. Mr. Banks is a bit rougher and that’s attributed to his miserable childhood and the effects of a particularly nasty nanny on him. Mrs. Banks is not a suffragette and is focused on becoming more of a “proper” wife after spending her time in the (shudder) theatre. The children are a tad bit more troublesome, though, in the end, no less loveable. There are also a variety of additions and subtractions among the secondary characters and the addition and subtraction of some scenes, but the core story of what we’d now call a dysfunctional family seeking help from the most unlikeliest of sources remains.
Ms. Buck is spit-spot on as Mary Poppins in appearance, demeanor, and voice. Waterhouse and Riccardi are solid as Mr. and Mrs. Banks. The children acquit themselves quite nicely with Master Sevier delivering some of the play’s sharpest lines with aplomb. Comic relief is provided by Karen Pinomaki as harried servant Mrs. Brill and force-of-nature Mary Gannon Graham as Miss Andrew, the nanny from hell. Tim Setzer as butler Robertson Ay has a clever comedic bit that’s best described as a ‘slapstick ballet’. Dominic Williams has some nice moments as Bert, more or less the narrator of the story. A bit of pathos is provided by Joan Hawley as the Bird Woman. There’s also strong work from the ensemble with a variety of colorful characters.
Musically, you’ll recognize many of your favorites from the film courtesy Musical Director Tina Lloyd Meals and her harmonious nine-piece orchestra. The Sherman Brothers’ score includes “A Spoonful of Sugar”, “Chim-Chim-Cheree”, “Feed the Birds”, “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” and, of course, “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”. New songs for the stage version are by George Stiles and Anthony Drew.
Choreographer Michella Snider brings her usual effervescent approach to this show. The large scale production numbers, which demand to be seen on a stage of this size, are a joy to watch as the colorfully-costumed (via Pamela Enz) cast dance to the music and sing the songs that have been delighting audiences for over fifty years now.
Lest you think that the “magic” of Mary Poppins would be limited by a live production, Abravaya has ramped up and refined the use of the Paradyne Projection system plus added some delightful live-action trickery. Yes, there’s Mary’s bottomless travel bag. No, you don’t get dancing penguins, but in a terrific combination of dance, costume, makeup, and music, you do get dancing statues!
Does Mary Poppins fly? Most certainly, as does this production, to the absolute pleasure of the just-about-capacity crowd in the Spreckels Performing Arts Center.
Consider making a “Jolly Holiday” of it by grabbing the family and treating them to an evening of theatrical enchantment. It’s the best live theatre family-friendly outing this area has seen in a while.
presented by Spreckels Theatre Company
through May 24
Fri @ 8pm, Sat @ 2pm & 8pm, Sun @ 2pm, Thurs 05/21 @ 7:30pm
Spreckels Performing Arts Center
5409 Snyder Lane
Rohnert Park, CA 94928
Photos by Eric Chazankin