I’m not someone who’s crazy about Disney in my adult years. Adults who are too into Disney make me uneasy, because I wonder if they know about things like sarcasm or “adult themes”. But I’m not completely heartless; I have my favorite Disney movies from my childhood. One of them is easily Mary Poppins, the story of the magical nanny that I watched many a times on VHS. Pittsburgh CLO just opened their production of the stage show and, in celebration of nostalgia; I brought my mother as my guest. See? I have a heart.
The stage version of Mary Poppins debuted a few years ago. The musical combines elements and songs from the movie with other parts from the books no one’s read. What results is the expanding of a few characters, the removal of a few scenes, and a few songs in different places. Magical and mysterious nanny Mary Poppins comes to the aid of Jane and Michael Banks, two bratty children dealing with neglectful and somewhat timid parents. Through her life lessons, magical “games”, and unwavering personality, Mary is able to teach them all a thing or two.
Mary becomes a bit more mysterious in the stage version, a fairy godmother who doesn’t reveal much about her life. Lindsey Bliven plays her with an unbreakable perkiness and stage presence that makes her feel like a welcome cartoon in the Banks’ drab life. Her jack-of-all-trades friend Bert (David Elder) is also assigned to the task of narrator. His charisma and voice are unfaltering, but the show relies a bit too heavily on his transitions so that you think you’ve heard him “chim chim cheroo” one too many times. Clare Chiusano and Mario Williams play Jane and Michael and do well at playing bratty kids without becoming shrill, and also land some moments of humor and sincerity.
Mr. and Mrs. Banks are expanded a bit for the stage, and their subplot at times can feel like it belongs in a totally different show. Much like the movie, the show hits on George’s career at the bank and digs away at why he is so distanced from his children. J. Anthony Crane plays George as a fully-backed character, ranging from comical to intimidating to sympathetic. His wife Winnifred struggles to learn how to be his partner in life, taking a pro-feminist stance at not just being “Mrs. Banks.” Winnifred is played with great heart (and beautiful voice) by Erin Dilly.
Mary Poppins is a very tall order to put on, especially tech-wise. So much happens with the scenery and the characters, but you can’t expect everything to happen smoothly on the first night out. Some gags would land while others would falter, but the cast and crew trucked through as best they could. While Mary was unpacking her impossibly full carpet bag (a bit that worked) she goes to hang her mirror up but can’t, prompting Bliven to quip “well it worked last time”, set in on the floor, and keep going. I can only imagine how many set pieces and things are sitting backstage, so well done to the crew that has to keep it all organized.
The production numbers also vary, although most of them please. “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” (spell-check that all you want) now takes place in a Talk Shop in the park and ends with a spelling portion that really lands. Newer number “Playing the Game” happens when Mary brings the children’s dolls to life to punish them for their mistreatment, a rather dark number that leaves an impression. The classic “Step in Time” features lots of stellar tapping (as it should) and is another crowd-pleaser, despite some momentarily confusing harness work from Bert. Dilly as Winifred and Susan Cella as the Bird Lady land a few somber numbers, while Mason Park (recently inRocky Horror) crushes a villainous drag turn as George’s former nanny, “The Holy Terror” Miss Andrew.
Pittsburgh CLO’s Mary Poppins definitely brought back some nice memories (I teared up when she flew across the stage, alright?). The classic has been tweaked for the stage, and while you always prefer some things (miss you, Uncle Albert) it’s not hard to accept the new staging. Despite a few technical hiccups and maybe a bit too much story (the show is 2 and a half hours long), Mary Poppins is good family entertainment that continues to charm.
Directed by Linda Goodrich
Written by Richard M. Sherman, Robert B. Sherman (music/lyrics), Julian Fellows (book), George Stiles and Anthony Drewe (new songs)
Designed by Timothy R. Mackabee (scenery), Andrew David Ostrowski (lighting), Main State Music Theatre (costumes)
Starring Lindsey Bliven (Mary Poppins), Ben Bogen (Robertson Ay), Susan Cella (Mrs. Brill/Bird Woman), Clare Chiusano (Jane Banks), J. Anthony Crane (George Banks), Erin Dilly (Winifred Banks), David Elder (Bert), Tim Hartman (Admiral Boom/Bank Chairman), Mason Alexander Park (Queen Victoria/Miss Smythe/Miss Andrew), Mario Williams (Michael Banks), and ensemble.
Show runs until June 21st, Tickets can be purchased here.
Performance Date: Tuesday, June 9, 2015