Monthly Archive for: ‘November, 2016’

Magic happens in Hillbarn’s ‘Mary Poppins’

Hillbarn Theatre creates magic with “Mary Poppins,” the stage musical version of the beloved 1964 Walt Disney film.

Even though Hillbarn’s small space doesn’t allow for spectacular special effects, director Dan Demers, his cast and crew are so deeply invested in the show that the audience can use its imagination to envision what’s happening.

For example, in the “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” sequence, there’s only one small kite at the end of a short rope. However, other characters act as if they’re flying kites, creating the illusion of many more than one.

Most of the action takes place in the home of George and Winifred Banks (Fred Feizollahi and Abby Haug) and their two young children, Jane (Katie Maupin) and Michael (Andrew Marheineke). After yet another nanny leaves because of the children’s behavior, Mary Poppins (Caitlin McGinty) arrives, seemingly unbidden.

She soon leads the children on a series of adventures that change their behavior and, in turn, change their father. He needs to change because he’s so obsessed with making money in his bank job that he treats his family with neglect or unreasonable strictness.

Although the main characters, which also include Jim Ambler as Bert, Mary’s chimney sweep friend, do well, everyone in the 26-member cast of all ages is energetic and involved. Numerous smaller parts are memorable, such as Darlene Batchelder as the Bird Woman, Queen Victoria and Miss Andrew, George’s tyrannical former nanny.

Then there are Ron Lopez Jr. as Robertson Ay, a family employee; and Jennifer Martinelli as Mrs. Brill, the cook and housekeeper.

Nevertheless, it’s McGinty as Mary who holds the stage with her regal presence and her character’s seemingly endless patience and wisdom. Ambler as Bert is an amiable, reliable friend to all. And the two children, Maupin as Jane and Marheineke as Michael, are both adorable and assured.

The show is filled with memorable music and lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman. They include, among others, “A Spoonful of Sugar,” “Feed the Birds,” “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and “Chim Chim Cher-ee.”

Several songs are enlivened with terrific dances choreographed by Michelle Shannon.

Hats off to scenic designer Don Coluzzi and his crew, who designed and painted the colorful, versatile sets. Kudos, too, to costume designers Mary Cravens and Shannon Maxham, lighting designer Carson Duper, properties and special effects designers Eric Olson and Adria Olson, and hair and wig designer Dee Morrissey.

Musical director Gregory Cheng and 11 musicians sit above the stage. However, this orchestra may be too large. It often overpowers the singers, exacerbating problems with the sound design by Larry Tasse. Not only can lyrics be hard to understand, but dialogue sometimes seems distorted, as if the actors were in an echo chamber.

Given those problems, it’s not always easy to discern what’s happening in a given moment, but the general effect comes across thanks in large part to the excellent acting and the relative simplicity of the book by Julian Fellowes, which is based on the stories of P.L. Travers and the Disney film.

The show runs about two hours and 45 minutes with one intermission, but it moves along well, making it a good bet for all ages.

“Mary Poppins” will continue through Dec. 18 at Hillbarn Theatre, 1285 E. Hillsdale Blvd., Foster City, through Dec. 18. For tickets and information, call (650) 349-6411 or visit


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