Review: 'Mary Poppins' at Artful Living

Nancy Sasso Janis

Artful Living is a community theatre group run by Christopher Solimene in the Killingworth area. This very personable producer/director feels strongly that “every community should have free theater options to families so that all children can be exposed to the benefits of the cultural arts and to remind society that raw talent is not based upon socio-economic resources.” His productions feature a teen, adult and large child ensemble of varying abilities that are often included and in the case of the current production of ‘Mary Poppins,’ a large cast of characters with some outstanding lead singing actors.

 ‘Disney and Cameron Mackintosh’s Mary Poppins’ is based on the stories of P.L.Travers and the Walt Disney film with original music and lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman and a book by Julian Fellowes. New songs and additional music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe were added. Mr. Solimene set out to delight his audiences with this “fun-packed production” and perhaps even have them learn, “like the Banks family, that when we slow down enough and disconnect from our harried ‘have to do’s’ in life, we open ourselves up to the wonderment and joy of the relationships around us.” Everyone involved in this production succeeded in that endeavor.  

 Johanna Regan played the iconic title character with both crossness and caring. Her strong presence filled the auditorium, as did her beautiful full soprano voice. When she exited through the middle aisle with umbrella raised, we awaited her return to the stage. Her fine costumes done by Judi Wallace, Michelle Johnston, Walden Moore and many volunteers and hair by Martha Ceplenski made her look practically perfect in every way. 

 Almost as strong as the jack of all trades named Bert was Henry Tobelman. This actor sang very well, but I would have like to have seen him turn up the charm in the role just a little bit more. Mark Gilchrist was an excellent Mr. Banks and Amy Buckley with her operatic voice was his perfect match as his wife Winifred. The talented Iris Davies and Jack Woods played their challenging children and looked enough alike that they could be brother and sister. 

 Kim Romine played the shrill Mrs. Brill, Madison Gerace was Daisy and Cameron Thomson was the butler Robertson Ay. Diane Adams was the lovable Mrs. Corry and Brandon Gregoire came alive as the statue of Neleus. Michelle Rocheford Johnston was impeccable as George Bank’s practically awful nanny Miss Andrew. Her stage presence and strong singing voice made me wish she got to appear in the first act as well. Kudos to the chimney sweeps on their awesome tap dancing in “Step in Time.” 

 Dialect coach Amanda Patrick made sure that everyone spoke and sang with the perfect British accents. While there weren’t many actual magic tricks, save a flying kite and a bouquet for Mary, there was a pretty magical set designed by April Chateauneuf and the director. It was all nicely lit by Trevor Hartman and the director. The orchestra, under the direction of Joel Spineti, sounded great, although at a few points they were not quite in sync with the vocalists on opening night. The hefty program, which was packed with a wide variety of ads, contained only six pages of show information and no biographies on anyone involved. 

 On opening night, the fire alarm at the lovely venue went off at the beginning of the intermission and blared for twenty minutes before it was shut off by the fire department. Young actors in costume behaved perfectly as they would at any fire drill and the director offered a complimentary seat at an upcoming performance to anyone in the audience who felt as if the spell of the production had been broken as a result of the extended intermission. A faulty sensor proved to be the culprit of the false alarm. 

Artful Living’s production of ‘Mary Poppins’ continues August 1, 2, 7, 8, and 9 at the Wagner Auditorium at Haddam-Killingworth Middle School 451 Route 81 in Killingworth CT.