Mary Poppins is a noble effort at SF Playhouse

Mary Poppins (El Beh) and Bert (Wiley Naman Strasser) during a Jolly Holiday with other park strollers (Rudy Guerrero and Sophia LaPaglia).

MARY POPPINS: Disney and Cameron Mackintosh’s  musical based on the stories of P.L. Travers and the Walt Disney Film. Original Music and Lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman. Book by Julian Fellowes. Additional Music and Lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. Directed by Susi Damilano. San Francisco Playhouse, 490 Post Street (2nd Floor of Kensington Park Hotel, San Francisco. (415) 677-9596 or www.sfplayhouse.org.

Mary Poppins is a noble effort at SF Playhouse. Rating: ★★★★☆

Never having seen the movie or read the book but having heard the marvelous songs “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”, “A Spoon Full of Sugar” and Chim Chim Cher-ee” plus knowing that Mary Poppins flies with an umbrella there were great expectations for this reviewer on opening night of Mary Poppins, The Broadway Musical. The expectations were partially met and one does leave the theater with a warm feeling that all is going to be alright.

In the program notes by Bill English: “The book….and the musical occupy a darker moral universe than the Disney film. They paint a tougher picture of the struggling middle class in London in the early 20th century . . . the gap between the Banks (family) and the poor was still desperately wide and . . . P.L. Travers was writing to try to close that gap and we follow suit with our production. . .”

Miss Andrew (Katrina Lauren McGraw*, center) meets the Banks family (Abby Haug*, Ruth Keith, and David Rukin)

The Banks family consists of George (Ryan Drummond) and Winifred (Abby Haug), father and mother of poorly behaved children Jane and Michael. Their antics have caused multiple nannies to quit shortly after being hired. George is a banker who has little interaction with the children and mother Winifred acquiesces to his wishes leaving the parenting to the nannies. The children write their own qualification for a nanny (“The Perfect Nanny”) that is torn up by George and thrown into the fireplace. That note magically is recreated and flies up the chimney to Mary Poppins who appears at the front door.

To this reviewer casting El Beh as Mary Poppins is a mistake. She has performed brilliantly in other SF Playhouse productions but for this role she lacks charisma and gives a one dimensional performance that leaves the accolades to the other characters.

Those other characters add depth, humor and charm to the production that is marvelously staged using a revolving set by Nina Ball and fantastic costumes by Abra Berman. The major role of Bert, both a chimney sweep and an artist, acts as a narrator while singing and effortlessly dancing his way through the evening.  The children Jane (Ruth Keith alternates with Grace Hutton) and Michael (David Rukin alternates with Billy Hutton) are appropriately awed by their foray into the real/magical world and the denizens who populate the Park including a pair of ancient statues that come to life.

Caption: Miss Andrew (Katrina Lauren McGraw*, center) meets the Banks family (Abby Haug*, Ruth Keith, and David Rukin

A real winner and audience favorites is Katrina McGraw as the “The Bird Woman” and Miss Andrews “The Holly Terror.” As The Bird Woman her solo of “Feed the Birds” is a charming contrast to her operatic “Brimstone and Treacle” that is a show stopper. Ryan Drummond and Abby Haug are ultimate professionals with beautiful singing voices that give verisimilitude to their change from indifferent to understanding parents.  You will be cheering when father and son go fly their kites and you may be humming the well-known songs especially after “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” is brought back for the curtain call.

The Cast

Susi Damilno’s direction keeps the action on tract and Kimberly Richards pulls out all the stops with the choreography. Running time is 2 hours and 40 minutes.

CAST: El Beh as Mary Poppins; Dominic Dagdagan, Ryan Drummond, Rudy Guerrero, Kathryn Han, Abby Haug, Grace Hutton, Billy Hutton, Ruth Keith, Sophia LaPaglia, Catrina Manahan, Katrina McGraw, Anthony Rollins Mullens, David Rukin, Neil Rushnock, Marie Shell, Wiley Naman Strasser, and Gina Velez.

CREATIVE STAFF: Susi Damilano, Director; Katie Coleman, Music Director; Kimberly Richards, Choreographer; Nina Ball, Scenic Designer; Abra Berman, Costume Designer; Theodore J.H. Hulsker, Sound Designer; Projections Designer, Patrick Toebe; Lighting Designer, Jacquelyn Scott, Properties Artisan; Sarah Selig, Tage Manager; Mike “Miguel” Martinez, Special Effects Director.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of wwwltheatreworldim2.com.

MP 1 caption

Mary Poppins (El Beh) and Bert (Wiley Naman Strasser) during a Jolly Holiday with other park strollers (Rudy Guerrero and Sophia LaPaglia).

MP 2 Caption:

Bert (Wiley Naman Strasser), Mary Poppins (El Beh) and Ensemble.