Review: Spencer Liff-Directed "SINGIN' IN THE RAIN" at La Mirada Rekindles That Glorious Feeling

Review: Spencer Liff-Directed "SINGIN' IN THE RAIN" at La Mirada Rekindles That Glorious Feeling

When the house lights finally came back on after the entire cast treated the appreciative audience a peppy, rain-soaked reprise of the show's title song as an encore, I turned to my friend beaming and said "I could not stop smiling the whole time!"

It is probably a safe assumption—judging from the thunderous applause of its recent opening night performance—that my happy reaction to McCoy Rigby Entertainment's joyfully buoyant new production of "SINGIN' IN THE RAIN"—now on stage at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts through May 12, 2019—was not a solitary feeling I alone felt after that performance.

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Review: “1776,” America’s Tuneful Origin Story Gets Vibrant New Staging at La Mirada Theatre

Review: “1776,” America’s Tuneful Origin Story Gets Vibrant New Staging at La Mirada Theatre

As of the writing (and perhaps publishing) time of this review, the United States government, mere weeks into 2019, continues to be shut down—an unfortunate by-product of our current combative, unwilling-to-compromise political climate that’s more about the attainment (and retainment) of party power rather than the actual pursuit of overall prosperity and goodness of the country. In the midst of these troubling times, what hardly no one can argue against, though, is the fact that thousands of livelihoods are now being negatively and perilously affected by this mess, and that, hopefully, a resolution happens very soon rather than much, much later.

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Review: New Stage Adaptation of “Murder on the Orient Express” Stops at La Mirada

Review: New Stage Adaptation of “Murder on the Orient Express” Stops at La Mirada

Perhaps one of the most well-known detective mysteries ever published, Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express” essentially became the subconscious blueprint for similar whodunnit stories that came after, particularly those that involve a confined room full of plausible suspects that are all under investigation by a brilliant sleuth.

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Review: Lively New Production of NEWSIES Carries the Banner in La Mirada

Review: Lively New Production of NEWSIES Carries the Banner in La Mirada

Keeping much of the original stage show's inescapable excitement and joyfulness intact, McCoy Rigby Entertainment's new local production of “NEWSIES”—which continues performances at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts through June 24—is a wonderfully caffeinated jolt of a stage show, highlighted by a remarkably talented and athletically-blessed ensemble that leaps and belts one show stopping number after another. That's no exaggeration—the show had so many moments when the show had to pause for enthusiastic applause.

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Review: These New 'DREAMGIRLS' in La Mirada Will Make You Happy

Michael L. Quintos

OnStage Los Angeles Critic

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LA MIRADA, CA - You can seriously feel the air of anticipation building inside the theater… not only amongst the frustrated characters on stage—in the middle of a trés scandalous drama—but also in the audience, now riveted at the edge of their seats. One by one, characters exit off in a huff, chanting "it's all over" after a rather tumultuous back-and-forth shouting match (well, singing match, actually)... leaving a devastated, tearful woman and a stubbornly closed-off man in their wake. 

And then... it happens. And it is absolutely magnificent.

Arguably one of the most memorable, iconic scenes in musical theater history, the first act closer of the Tony Award-winning 1981 Broadway musical 'DREAMGIRLS' still provides plenty of goosebumps to this day, particularly when the central performer in the nucleus of the scene dives into it with unbound gusto and sings the hell out of the song.

The song, of course, is "And I Am Telling You (I'm Not Going)"—the guttural, emotionally-volatile diva anthem of perseverance and furious pleading written by lyricist/book writer Tom Eyen and composer Henry Krieger. The ultimate take-me-back song is belted to the high heavens by the just-ejected Effie White, the big-voiced, big-bodied, and (now) former member of the Dreams, the internationally-famous R&B girl group she once fronted (back when they were called The Dreammettes). 

Ms. White has just found out that her combative attitude and anger-filled tirades (and multiple absences) has forced the superstar group's manager—who was also her, yikes, lover—to replace her with another singer without notice, minutes from stepping on the stage in Las Vegas. 

Filled with raw, bombastic emotions, this moment in the show requires an equally bombastic performer to pull off not only its challenging musical demands but also the erratic, roller coaster of feelings exploding in the scene. For La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts' glossy, highly-entertaining regional production of this juicy, behind-the-scenes stage musical about the meteoric rise and eventual break-up of a fictional (but cheekily familiar-looking) 1960's girl group, they turned to the extraordinary Moya Angela for the task. 

It's understandable why she was anointed—Angela has already embodied this very same role quite well when she played Effie during the relaunched 2009 national tour production that made lauded So Cal stops both at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles and at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Orange County several years ago. It seems logical (and smart) for producers to tap her once again.

And when your lead actress incites a boisterous standing ovation after slaying with an incredible performance of the musical's aforementioned signature song—even as the show is still in the midst of that act one ending—you know you've got something great here. 

As Effie White, Angela is equal parts vulnerable and heartbroken, yet somehow also self-assured and steadfast—all discernible qualities of this iconic character that the actress has maturely fine-tuned from the last time she played this part in the national tour. And, of course, her "And I Am Telling You..." is delivered with such remarkably intense ferocity that everyone couldn't help but bolt up from their seat (including this reviewer, as I wiped tears streaming down my face). Within a span of a song, the Angela transforms methodically from angry, to remorseful, to desperate, to, finally, defiant. 

Not only has she grown tremendously as an actress (she always had the amazing singing chops, thank you very much), Angela has also developed a more palpable stage presence, even as her peers ham it up around her. 

I dare you to take your eyes off her every time she's on stage. 

Well, okay... she may have some challengers, thanks to her awesome co-stars that are themselves worthwhile reasons to see this McCoy/Rigby Entertainment production of DREAMGIRLS, which continues performances at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts through April 17, 2016. 

The ravishing Jasmin Richardson is phenomenal in the role of Deena Jones, the meek(er) member of the group, who would later be bumped up to lead singer when Effie is told her voice is just, uh, too "special" to cross over to the pop charts. As the production's master class in acting, Richardson gives out an exceptionally noticeable transition within her Deena, going from a shy, reserved young woman—perfectly content on being in the background—into the confident, sexy, and sophisticated go-getter that ascends to the forefront via a promotion and a wardrobe upgrade. 

It's easy to understand—when she becomes The Dreams' new lead—why the world, the press, and the group's manager became so smitten with her. And while it's definitely a role that has the unfortunate side-effect of becoming polarizing—in that the character becomes an obstacle to our lead heroine's success story—Richardson gives her Deena a humanity that wins the audience's favor as well.

Alongside Deena throughout the journey is spunky spitfire Lorrell, the third member of the Dreams played brilliantly here by Brittney Johnson. Blessed with a bubbly presence and plenty of sassy one-liners, Ms. Johnson is wonderfully vibrant in her scenes, even if she's often playing the buffer between Deena and Effie, or playing tongue-hockey with fellow R&B firecracker James "Thunder" Early. 

And speaking of... Scene-stealer David LaMarr is quite a hoot as Jimmy Early, the wild soul-funk showman with a penchant for high-energy dance moves and seducing young starlets, including Lorrell, one of the Dreamettes who sings back up for him. With every appearance, whether just to deliver a line or two or to perform a production number, LaMarr makes it a highly-entertaining event—a spectacle, actually—that reflects the character's lack of filter or inhibitions and the character's unflappable need to put on a great show. Jimmy also gets many of the show's funniest lines and scenarios, and LaMarr approaches them with incredible comic timing.

While, sure, DREAMGIRLS is definitely all about the three leading ladies (it's in the title, after all), the cast is also blessed with some admirable support from Scott A. People as music impresario/Dreams manager Curtis Taylor Jr.; John Devereaux as Effie's brother, songwriter CC White; Lorenzo T. Hughes as Marty, Jimmy's manager who later takes on managing Effie; and Danielle Truitt as Michelle, Effie's replacement in the group who ends up dating CC. The rest of the gorgeous-sounding ensemble cast provide some high-energy dancing and lots of beautiful harmonies throughout, helping to create a world rich with exciting musical possibilities.

As for this La Mirada Theatre production itself, the show is pretty much a faithful carbon-copy of that enjoyable recent national touring production—which happens to also be directed and choreographed by Robert Longbottom. La Mirada's offering repurposes almost all of the visual and technical aspects of that tour, from the use of moving LED screens that set up different scenes and environments to William Ivey Long's lavishly exquisite costumes. Repeat credits also include co-choreographer Shane Sparks, Scenic Designer Robin Wagner, Lighting Designer Ken Billington, and Media Designer Howard Werner—whose combined work with musical director Dennis Castellano make for a very entertaining night of escapist theater. 

The production even similarly re-introduces an added song to the mix, "Listen" which has been swiped from the successful, Oscar-winning 2006 motion picture adaptation and inserted into the tour. Just like that version, La Mirada's revival features the "new" song with revamped lyrics that allows for a tender, penultimate reconciliation between newly empowered Effie and apologetic superstar Deena. It's actually quite a thrilling duet to witness, as it not-so-subtly puts a gift bow on the whole thing as a finishing touch. It's a tidy scene that overcomes its somewhat treacly machinations all thanks to a really kick-ass duet between two amazing singers where neither ever overpowers the other. It's an honest-to-goodness collaboration.

One unexpected new surprise: "When I First Saw You" sung by People as slick dictator Curtis in a seemingly somber moment, repeatedly got some chuckles during the show's recent opening night performance, a phenomenon I've never experienced before in any prior production. Who knew that song was meant to be a chance for us to laugh at Curtis' eventual comeuppance? 

Sure, while the cliché "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" somewhat applies here, part of me does still feel that it would have been nice to experience a regional production of DREAMGIRLS with something—anything—slightly different from the previous tour, besides the cast. But fret not, though, because when all is said and done (and, really, seen and heard), the production that has blessed us here is an indisputable triumph, nonetheless.

Yes, they're your Dreamgirls, boys... they'll make you happy.

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Follow this reviewer on Twitter: @cre8iveMLQ

Photos from the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts' production of DREAMGIRLS by Michael Lamont.

DREAMGIRLS is presented by The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts and McCoy Rigby Entertainment and continues through Sunday, April 17, 2016 at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts located at 14900 La Mirada Boulevard in the city of La Mirada. Parking is Free. Additionally, the production will also perform May 6-8 at Valley Performing Arts Center in Northridge.

For tickets, visit www.LaMiradaTheatre.com or call (562) 944-9801 or (714

Review: Pre-Broadway EMPIRE - THE MUSICAL Debuts in La Mirada

Michael L. Quintos

New musicals with Broadway-bound hopes are always immensely exciting to see at the start of its journey, if mostly for an audience to witness an early iteration that provides an "I was there" story to whip out later once the show actually makes it to New York. For that show's engineers, though, the first official full-blown production of any new work is itself a cause for celebration—and, perhaps, lots of understandable anxiety.

Such was the palpable, uproariously cheerful hullabaloo that greeted the opening night performance of EMPIRE - THE MUSICAL, a brand new stage show featuring book, music, and lyrics by Caroline Sherman and Robert Hull—currently having its "out-of-town" premiere at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts through February 14, 2016. Directed and choreographed by Tony Award nominee Marcia Milgrom Dodge (RAGTIME), this ambitious new original musical—advertised with declared aspirations for an eventual engagement on the Great White Way—fashions an early 20th Century era, multi-character narrative about the construction of one of the world's most iconic skyscrapers: the Empire State Building in New York City.

At the center of the show's multi-layered fact-meets-fiction storyline is the structure's chief designer and architect, big dreamer Michael Shaw (a superb Kevin Earley) who has been tasked by former Governor Al Smith (Michael McCormick) and the project's anxious financier John J. Raskob (Tony nominee Tony Sheldon) to help create what they hoped would eventually be the tallest building in the world (well, for the next few decades anyway). 

It is certainly quite an undertaking to tackle, considering that the nation just suffered through a huge, nation-crippling stock market crash that ushered the country into the doldrums of the Great Depression. 

But, of course, with a little hopeful derring do and lots of "moxie" (via song-and-dance, naturally), this assembled team—with much needed assistance from Smith's whip-smart go-to office gal Frankie Peterson (the magnificent Stephanie Gibson, the show's beautifully-voiced MVP with the rapid-fire zingers)—all set forth to "inspire people in the country to keep moving up"... forging ahead anyway with their determined plans to construct the (initially called) "Al Smith Building." 

But like any gargantuan project, it has its share of obstacles: not only did they promise the city that they will engineer a record-breaking 100-story Art Deco wonder in the midst of a tragic economic crisis, but they also promised to do so with break-neck speed, completing it in just 14 months, in an attempt to beat out the Chrysler Building for height bragging rights! On top of that, building materials aren't exactly plentiful in such a sour economy. Oh, boy.

Undeterred, Michael and Frankie—whose earlier meet-cute all but guarantees a romantic entanglement in their near future—set off to draft construction foreman Abe Klayman (Joe Hart) to assemble a willing (read: cheap but skilled) labor force that could get the job done on time and on budget. The impromptu recruiting session—done at a pool hall, of course—yields a crew who collectively all prove to be brave and hard-working. 

The workforce is made up mostly of Native Americans (referred to back then as, yikes, simply "Mohawks") led by Pomahac (Richard Bulda); and plenty of eager European immigrants (...who get the job done...) including young, rambunctious little Bucky (Tommy Bracco) and newlywed Ethan (Caleb Shaw) whose worrisome wife Emily (Katharine McDonough) is pregnant with a child back home. She is so scared for the welfare and safety of her husband that she takes part in protests alongside other New York City women against the construction of the building. 

But nonetheless motivated by a steady income during uncertain economic times, these workers defied gravity daily as they climbed up the open-air heights in not-so-ideal working conditions that would probably scare the rest of us—all to build this enormous structure that, for them, is a veritable symbol of American tenacity. 

And like with every difficult endeavor—as in building a skyscraper or, perhaps, mounting a brand new stage musical—hardships arise and various creative solutions are attempted to reach an ultimate end result.

So, with that in mind, how does EMPIRE - THE MUSICAL fare in its first fully-staged production?

First, the good news: the show, in its current state, is exceedingly entertaining, charmingly funny, cute and cheesy in a good way, grandiose in significant doses, and has plenty of top-notch, high-caliber theatrics that make for a great, well-spent evening at the theater. The opener—a rousing, tap-tastic dance number called "Heyday"—launches the show with giddy joy, setting up what may be its overall mood and raison d'être, and a wonderful way to lure the audience into the show. 

And though it meanders thematically from there, actually, much of the lovely 20's and 30's-inspired music (under music director Sariva Goetz with orchestrations by Michael Starobin) feels completely in line with the time period, and many—particularly the spectacular dance number "Lunchtime" featuring the amazing ensemble of laborers—are impressive showstoppers. The physical interplay between the cast and the show's technical and visual wizardry is also worth applauding.  

In perhaps the musical's most clever, eye-popping attribute, the multi-tiered sets (designed by David Gallo and Brad Peterson) utilized to illustrate the grandness of this musical extend and retract in multiple configurations while computer image backdrop projections morph in and out to depict settings, buildings, and, most remarkable of all, the high-flying steel beams and skyline above Manhattan. Visually, EMPIRE is a marvel of astoundingly choreographed tech innovations that will dazzle audiences here and beyond (one particular sequence, which culminates into one of the most memorable photographs in American history, earned a much-deserved prolonged applause on opening night and is one of many cleverly conceived highlights in the show).

The ensemble cast for this particular production, especially its compelling lead actors Earley and Gibson, are all terrific, mixing seasoned Broadway vets with outstanding local/regional musical theater actors. In the huge production numbers, they burst out as bonafide stage stars.

The (sort of) not-so-good news, though, is that—as one would expect with a first production—it's got a lot more tinkering and editing ahead of it if the show wants to fulfill its proposed Broadway ambitions. Overall, EMPIRE is brimming with incredible potential, but it could certainly use a bit more narrative trimming and refining (particularly in the second act), and it should also strive to have a better foothold on a unified identity in order for it to feel more like one musical instead of several kinds of shows mashed up together. 

Such an admirable undertaking—to combine a goofy, high-stepping, classic musical comedy with the aspirational scope of an historical epic, plus weaving in smaller personal stories of periphery characters—isn't necessarily always a bad thing. But here—in what should clearly be focused instead as a sharp, witty musical comedy about a pair of equally intriguing main characters and the important quest surrounding them—gets overwhelmed with expanded tangents that perhaps do not warrant their own large spotlights. The attempt to give due diligence to additional B, C, and D storylines of other peripheral characters (including a well-meant character joining the workforce in disguise), frankly just pulls the show away from the adorable lead characters' journey... their playful transition from combative colleagues to a cute, adorable couple-to-be—and how their story parallels the upward trajectory of the Empire State Building itself. 

Be that as it may, EMPIRE - THE MUSICAL—genuinely deserving of the thunderous standing ovation it received on opening night—may still feel like a work in progress now, but it's hard to deny that it has a lot of down-right impressive pluses going for it, ensuring that this enjoyable new musical will entertain plenty more audiences with its endearing pluck, buoyant musicality, and clever staging for seasons to come. I, for one, certainly look forward to experiencing the next phase of its evolution.


Follow this reviewer on Twitter: @cre8iveMLQ

Photos from the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts' production of EMPIRE - THE MUSICAL by Michael Lamont. Review originally published for OnStage.

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Performances of the pre-Broadway production of EMPIRE THE MUSICAL at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts in the city of La Mirada, CA continues through Sunday, February 14, 2016. The theater is located at 14900 La Mirada Boulevard. Parking is Free. 

For tickets, visit www.LaMiradaTheatre.com or call (562) 944-9801 or (714) 994-6310

Review: "First Date" at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts

Erin Conley

“One date. Two people. And every single voice in their heads.” This is the tagline for First Date, the musical comedy which opened Saturday in its west coast debut at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts. The show, which ran on Broadway for about five months at the end of 2013, thoroughly entertained the opening night audience with a very relatable inside look at a blind date and all the neuroses one entails. 

Erica Lustig and Marc Ginsburg star in the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts/McCoy Rigby Entertainment Southern California Premiere Production of the Broadway Musical "FIRST DATE" - directed by Nick DeGruccio and now playing at LA MIRADA THEATRE FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS.

I saw the Broadway production, which starred Zachary Levi of Chuck fame and Krysta Rodriguez, who is currently back on Broadway in the Deaf West revival of Spring Awakening. As I have always found to be the case with La Mirada’s shows, every aspect of the production was top notch, making this staging an incredibly worthy one through which to introduce a new audience to this musical. With a book by Austin Winsberg, music and lyrics by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner, and a small cast of seven, the show is a quirky romantic comedy that is wholly original, something that seems to be increasingly rare in musical theater.

The plot follows the titular first date of Aaron (Marc Ginsburg) and Casey (Erica Lustig), who are just as overtly mismatched as you would expect. He is a neurotic, workaholic type who wears suits and ties to bars and is still hung up on his ex-fiance. She is artsy, non-committal, has a thing for bad boys, and is in denial of her own issues that prevent her from ever getting a second date. As you can imagine, hijinks ensue. The show highlighted exactly the right silly dating moments—the stress over the arrival of the check, what to order for dinner, Googling your date prior to ever meeting them, the pre-arranged phone call from a friend in case you need a quick exit excuse, and, of course, the awkward pause. The two leads were very talented and possessed excellent chemistry and comedic timing, making you truly root for them and creating moments even out of songs that were ultimately a bit forgettable. 

The five ensemble members played a wide variety of roles, ranging from a waiter and fellow patrons of the restaurant where Aaron and Casey’s date takes place to characters who exist only inside the main characters’ minds. We have Casey’s gay best friend, her sister, Aaron’s dead Jewish grandmother, his much more suave best friend, and even personifications of various social media sites. The versatility of the talented ensemble (Justin Michael Wilcox, Leigh Wakeford, Scott Dreier, Stacey Oristano, and Kelley Dorney) was truly impressive and really brought the show to life.

 The company performs in the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts/McCoy Rigby Entertainment Southern California Premiere Production of the Broadway Musical "FIRST DATE" - directed by Nick DeGruccio and now playing at LA MIRADA THEATRE FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS.

Despite a modest run time of about 90 minutes, some scenes and songs overstayed their welcome a bit. While the ensemble numbers were the funniest and most entertaining, I found myself wishing the show would focus more on the core relationship. Aaron and Casey both learn quite a bit about themselves over the course of this one, fateful date, and some of the more emotional moments felt like they barely had room to land. We never really explore Casey’s commitment issues or what exactly Aaron is looking for in this first real dating foray after his failed engagement. Rather than spending full production numbers with the waiter character (although many audience members seemed to eat this moment up), I would have liked to focus more on the central story and really continue getting to know the actual characters. An 11th hour, out-of-left-field secondary romance felt forced, and it almost felt as if the show tried to explore too much and let some moments fall by the wayside as a result.

All of that being said, I was pleasantly surprised by how much audience members of all ages appeared to truly enjoy what is definitely a very modern show. Ultimately, while the references and subject matter may be most relevant to a younger crowd, the style of humor and overall themes are rather universal. Everyone can connect with the fear that comes along with a first impression, particularly with someone you’re interested in. The fears Casey and Aaron have are in so many ways fears we have all had at some point, which is probably why they are so easy to root for as a potential couple. While First Date certainly doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it is a very enjoyable, engaging musical comedy that hits many of the right notes. 

Directed by Nick DeGruccio, First Date runs at La Mirada through October 11th. Tickets range from $20-$70 and can be purchased at www.lamiradatheatre.com.

Review: La Mirada's Jolly MARY POPPINS Is A Charming Delight

Michael L. Quintos

If you're a regional theater company attempting to mount a home-grown production of a grand, Broadway-sized stage musical centered around one of the most popular, iconic characters in literary and cinematic history, then it's probably a good idea to make sure your title character not only meets expectations but also helps lift the entire enterprise to vivid life.

Luckily for the talented, audacious folks behind the charming new regional production of the Disney/Cameron Mackintosh musical spectacular MARY POPPINS—currently playing at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts through June 21—they found a lovely, practically perfect Poppins in Hart of Dixie's Brandi Burkhardt, who confidently channels the nanny we all wish we had as kids. Blessed with a lovely singing voice and a pitch-perfect demeanor that's at times bold, at times cheeky, and altogether beguiling, she does a wonderful job embodying a role that will no doubt draw unfair (but, alas, expected) comparisons to the Oscar-winning Musical Goddess that made the role famous in movie theaters and (later) living rooms across the globe. 

Fear not, though, because as soon as Burkhardt (as the titular magically-inclined nanny) arrives in the Banks household located at Number 17, Cherry Tree Lane, the audience—expecting perhaps a nostalgic trip to Julie Andrews land—is greeted to a Poppins that they will find likable and refreshing, yet still comfortably familiar. While, sure, there are microscopic glimpses of Dame Julie floating in the atmosphere, this Mary Poppins (the character) belongs solely to this MARY POPPINS (the stage show), and we're all the better for it.

But admirable as that feat is, it also helps a lot that this production itself—produced by McCoy-Rigby Entertainment under the buoyant direction of Glenn Casale—is also quite a delightful crowd-pleaser, filled with colorful first-rate visuals, spectacular dancing, festive songs, and an infectiously enthusiastic cast that tries its best to win over its audience. And, boy, they definitely do!

The super-friendly Jack-of-all-trades, Bert, out front as Mary's close pal (or perhaps more?), is played with terrific humor and winning aplomb by Leigh Wakeford (if you've never seen the stage musical before, you'll be completely pleased with his gravity-defying sequence that, trust me, you'll be cheering). As Jane and Michael Banks, the young naughty children that Mary has chosen to look after, Noa Solorio and Logan J. Watts (respectively) are both appealingly precocious in their roles. Their father, George Banks—a stern banker by trade who rules his home with a disciplinarian's hand—is played with gruff likability by Martin Kildare. And as his melancholy, often-neglected wife, Winnifred, Shannon Warne brings a quiet grace and empathetic vulnerability (and some great singing pipes) to the expanded role. 

At the same time, supporting players Dino Nicandros (as comically bumbling houseboy Robertson Ay), Rachel Pfeifer Green (as the Banks' cook), Joël René (as Caribbean-flavored, spelling-happy shopkeeper Mrs. Corry), Helen Geller (as the Bird Woman of St. Paul's Cathedral), and Mary Gutzi (as the fearsome anti-Poppins nanny, Miss Andrew) all add great pep and personality to this magical show. 

And as consistently expected in these big, Broadway-caliber La Mirada productions, the large, talent-bursting ensemble cast looks marvelous donning Janet Swenson's ornate costumes while enveloped in J Branson's exquisite, book illustrations-inspired scenic design and Jonathan Infante's projections. The company also sounds beautifully harmonious accompanied by the show's rousing orchestra that's under the rhythmic baton of musical director Dennis Castellano. Finally, the dazzling, brand new high-energy dance sequences created exclusively for this production come courtesy of the late Dan Mojica, who, sadly, passed away before seeing his awesome work performed to perfection for the show's opening (fittingly, his stunning choreography here was fondly remembered during the show's opening night intro).

As for the whole production itself, La Mirada should be very proud of their admirable, highly-entertaining locally-birthed endeavor. Based on PL Travers' fantastical London-based tales of the world's most magical nanny, the stage musical iteration of MARY POPPINS—conceived by Cameron Mackintosh and features a book by Julian Fellowes—is an exhilarating Disney-fied theatrical showpiece, that's greatly inspired by Disney's own beloved 1964 big screen adaptation while drawing added alternative story material from Travers' books themselves, perhaps as a move to make this property its own entity. 

With that said, those few purists hoping for a scene-for-scene recreation of the movie may be a little disappointed with the differences implemented here (Admiral Boom only makes brief, dismissible cameos; Mrs. Banks is a lot more serious and isn't involved with the Suffragettes' movement; Uncle Albert and his laugh-induced ceiling tea party are gone; and the chalk-drawing sequence that leads to an "animated" horse race has also been excised). In their place, the musical adds a magical, statue-animating stroll through the park, a technicolor supercalifragilistic visit to a sweets shoppe, and, later, the arrival of "The Holy Terror"—the nanny from hell and the total opposite of Mary Poppins.

Fret not, though, because at its core, the lively spirit that many found so utterly enjoyable in the film still lingers in this stage iteration, particularly during the show's lively showstopper moments, of which there are many—including a full-out dance party that breaks out when the city's chimney sweeps do "Step In Time" over the rooftops of London. 

Though many of the stories and situations will seem new to those only familiar with the film, the stage show does essentially follow a fairly similar narrative trajectory. Here, like in the movie, a magic-powered, summoned-from-the-heavens nanny named Mary Poppins swoops in (via wind-blown umbrella) to influence drastic, necessary changes within a divided, deeply fractured household. Dad works too hard and has become crabby and strict in the process. Mom feels ignored and thinks that she is a constant disappointment to her husband and children. The Banks kids, meanwhile, see no other recourse but to act out and be naughty in order to get their parents' attention (and, perhaps to stifle their own boredom, too). Though the journey may be different in the stage version, the same happily-ever-after resolution is definitely still in the cards (yay!).

But more importantly, in its smartest move of all, the stage version of MARY POPPINS revives the gloriously tuneful music of brothers Richard and Robert Sherman, the prolific, genius songwriting duo who crafted the classic songs featured in the original Disney film. Their memorable, iconic gems such as "A Spoonful of Sugar," "The Perfect Nanny," "(It's A) Jolly Holiday," "Feed The Birds," "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," "Let's Go Fly A Kite," and, of course, the Oscar-winning "Chim Chim Cher-ee" are all engagingly incorporated here, weaved seamlessly alongside brand new, wonderfully Poppins-esque songs by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. 

Yes, what's even more remarkable about the new musical compositions by Stiles and Drewe in this stage version is how well they blend in—or, sometimes, extend and elaborate—the Sherman Brothers' classic tunes from the film. "Practically Perfect," Mary's measuring tape-inspired introductory solo, genuinely sounds like a lost Sherman Brothers trunk song, yet still remains wholly original (and absolutely clever), as is the unabashedly hopeful "Anything Can Happen." And the duo's musical expansion of "Jolly Holiday" is just magnificently inspired. 

Specifically, with this particular La Mirada production, I can honestly say that the show is already a vast improvement from earlier incarnations, for the simple fact that this regional rendering eschews that dreadfully odd sequence (featuring the song "Playing the Game") in which the children's nursery toys suddenly come to life (!) to exact karmic vengeance upon the Banks kids for their supposed mishandling and lack of care. Eeek! 

Well, by deleting that horrific section, La Mirada has just saved a lot of kids (and a few of us adults) in the audience from having to deal with unwanted nightmares. Though removing that sequence certainly helps zip the show along in its merry (or Mary) way, the musical does still feel a bit disjointed in some parts.

And therein lies the only minor flaw that still sticks out for me with both this and previous versions of the musical: its rather choppy, episodic nature—as if the show is just a conveyor belt of disparate individual vignettes one right after another... perhaps purposely constructed this way in order to necessitate a steady, albeit extremely enjoyable stream of production numbers. There's certainly nothing wrong with that; other musicals, actually, do a much worse job executing it. At least, with La Mirada's delightfully charming MARY POPPINS, the enjoyment comes early and continues often. Its ultimate aim is to be an entertaining crowd-pleaser... and that is certainly something this show achieves. 

Originally published on BroadwayWorld. Follow this reviewer on Twitter: @cre8iveMLQ. 

Photos from the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts' regional production of MARY POPPINS - THE BROADWAY MUSICAL by Michael Lamont.

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Performances of MARY POPPINS at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts in the city of La Mirada, CA continues through Sunday, June 21, 2015. The theater is located at 14900 La Mirada Boulevard. Parking is Free. 

For tickets, visit www.LaMiradaTheatre.com or call (562) 944-9801 or (714) 994-6310