The decision to produce a Disney musical can always be a tricky one. On one hand it’s a lovely idea to go with one because you’re almost certain to get butts in the seats. On the other hand it can be very difficult because of the high expectations people hold with previous cast recordings and of course the original source material. The iconic and beloved character has made headlines since its inception with the original stories by P.L. Travers, the 1964 film starring Julie Andrews, a musical that premiered on Broadway in 2006 and now the sequel coming out this December with Emily Blunt. Last night, Artistry opened their production of Mary Poppins and I am hear to tell you that it is just as magical as the original.
Mary Poppins is the tale of Jane and Michael Banks, two children who tend to scare off nanny after nanny. Their lives are dull, grey and boring as their mother hardly has time for them and their father is a grouchy business man who certainly has no time for them. Their lives take quite the turn when they finally meet their match when their advertisement for a new nanny brings the magical Mary Poppins to their house on Cherry Tree lane. The children begin to embark on a series of adventures with Mary, along with her chimney sweep friend, Bert, as she tries to bring the family together again.
The show began with the classical and slightly eerie tune to one of the shows most memorable songs “Chim Chim Cher-ee” and goosebumps flew up my spin. It was already a magical moment when you hear those notes. The set, designed by Joel Sass (who also served as the productions director), is revealed with a black cut out silhouette of London the furthest upstage. The set continues to reveal various scenes including the park, the Banks home, their kitchen and the children’s bedroom. They feature bright colors and beautifully constructed moving set pieces to depict each scene.
Sass has assembled an incredible cast from the leads, to the supporting and the entire ensemble. Everyone's on their A game throughout the entire show. Charlie Clark, who plays George Banks, is perfect as the grouchy father whose rough childhood leads him to becoming a strict father. Andrea Wollenberg, cast as Winifred Banks, is doting and caring as a mother who has been spread to thin. Caitlin Burns, who plays the shrill Mrs. Brill, is a recent Artistry favorite of mine and returns to the stage in this hilarious role. C. Ryan Shipley plays the pleasant and skillful chimney sweep, Bert. Shipley brings a wonderful sense of liveliness to the role.
The magic is strongest on stage when Ms. Becca Hart is on it. Hart, who plays the title role, is not just “practically perfect in every way” but is perfect in every way. Hart is whimsically delightful and completely makes the role her own. She’s prim, proper and never once slouches from curtain up to curtain down. Hart nails the essence of the character as someone who is strict but also has a heart of gold. Her voice soars through the theatre and is well rounded. Often I feel sometimes a soprano can be very one-dimensional and static however Hart explores many different levels of not only her voice but also the character.
Before the show started, the Artistic Director, Benjamin McGovern, gave a speech thanking the various supporters in the audience. Everyone from season subscribers, to the cast and crew and most importantly the parents in the audience. The parents who brought their kids to the show and introduced them to the magic that is theatre. Not only is this a wonderfully produced show with tricks around every curtain, but it is a great launching pad for any parent who wants to introduce theatre to their kids. Did I tear up a bit? Absolutely.
Mary Poppins is a wonderfully enchanting and alluring production that shines even in the darkest of times that we live in now. It features everything audiences loved and miss about the original movie along with a few new surprises along the way. Yes that includes all your favorites including a “Spoonful of Sugar” and “With a cast that sings beautifully and also captivates audiences with dynamite choreography by Joe Chvala, it’s the show of the season to see. The minute these reviews come out, I can only assume tickets will begin selling quicker than you can say “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”
Mary Poppins is currently playing at Artistry now through Nov. 4 at the Schneider Theater in Bloomington, MN. After you buy tickets, feel free to read my interview with Becca Hart by clicking the button below.
*Photo Credit: Devon Cox