Review: "Mary Poppins" at Curtain Call

Chris Peterson

To kick off their 25th season, Curtain Call in Stamford, CT has opened with a behemoth of a show, Disney & Cameron Mackintosh's Mary Poppins. Led by an extremely talented and deep cast, this production truly soars despite its technical and design flaws. 

For those of you who have seen the Disney movie classic, you know the basic story of the nanny who came and theoretically saved the Banks family. And while this production features many of the songs you know and love, the story is more based on the book itself, which we all know the film, famously, deviated from quite much. So don't go in expecting to see dancing penguins and floating to the ceiling with Uncle Albert, they're not there. 

And while the show is much different from the movie, it still retains its charm and spectacle and ability to delight all ages, as evident from the reactions of the children sitting around me. 

The cast here is great and each fills their roles with plenty of energy and personality. In the title role, Sarah Giggar, is everything you would hope for. She is warm, guiding and stern when need be. Moments such as "Brimstone & Treacle" and the particularly surprisingly creepy "Playing the Game", Ms. Giggar shines. Her vocals are spot on as well, showing considerable range and skill in not only the iconic Disney tunes but also the new ones such as "Practically Perfect". 

Sara Giggar and Larry Gabard as Mary Poppins and Burt, the chimney sweep. Photo: Curtain Call

Sara Giggar and Larry Gabard as Mary Poppins and Burt, the chimney sweep. Photo: Curtain Call

Larry Gabbard, as Bert, is another reason to see the show as well. Combining both considerable charm and talent, Mr. Gabbard serves as a narrator of sorts, setting each scene with reprises of "Chim Chim Cheree". Mr. Gabbard also deserves extra recognition for his athletic performance given the fact he was injured mid show, just a couple of days earlier. 

William Trebing (even somewhat resembling David Tomlinson) and Lisa Schacher both give strong performances as Mr. & Mrs. Banks as both parts are more fleshed out for the stage musical, and the second act story line primarily revolves around them. Katie Morris and Javier Gonzalez (Natalie Steele and Jonah Frimmer perform on alternating dates) made for a wonderful child-star pair as Jane and Michael Banks. 

This production is also benefited from a strong ensemble cast as well, with Kevin Sell and Natasha Fenster as Robertson and Mrs. Brill. Eric Hu gives one of the best performances I've seen him in as Neleus and Gail Yudain is equally brilliant in her roles as the Bird Woman and the terrifying Miss Andrew. 

The rest of the company features considerable talent with each person giving their complete effort in their various roles, which is a joy to see in any production. Music Director Greg Chrzczon, once again provides excellent conducting as well.  

Mary Poppins is a technically heavy show, that's unmistakable. However the performance this writer saw(Show #3), was hindered with technical glitch after technical glitch. Continuous microphone issues, lighting problems and set effects not working, would often become an overwhelming distraction in various scenes. 

Costume designer Megan Latte Ormond nails the iconic costumes of the more notable characters however makes some questionable choices in the conventional clothing(the Bank Chairman's suit looked more fitting for the 1980's than the early 1900's). The set design also lacked the vision and panache usually seen from designer Peter Barbieri Jr. 

Sarah Giggar as Mary Poppins, Javier Gonzalez as Michael Banks, and Gail Yudain as The Birdwoman. Photo: Curtain Call

Sarah Giggar as Mary Poppins, Javier Gonzalez as Michael Banks, and Gail Yudain as The Birdwoman. Photo: Curtain Call

The choreography, from Kari Sweeney Efferen, was for the most part lively, resembling  the London and Broadway productions. For his part, director Ben Frimmer helms the production well, however changes in the way characters interact with one another and the timing of set changes("Feed the Birds" shouldn't be sung over the sounds of a set being assembled), would serve this production very well. 

Thankfully this production is aided by a long run, so there I expect many of these issues will be ironed out by the time it closes on Oct 17th. 

Technical and design issues aside, Curtain Call's Mary Poppins is family friendly fun as evidenced by the legion of children who were waiting outside the theater to meet "Mary Poppins" after the show. 

Mary Poppins will play September 11 through October 17, Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30pm as well as Saturday and Sunday afternoons at 2:00pm. There are also two Thursday evening performances at 7:30pm on October 8 and 15. Regular prices are $32 for adults, $24 for senior citizens and $16 for students and children. Thrifty Thursday pricing – all seats $22. Box Office: 203-461-6358 or online at www.curtaincallinc.com. Discounted FLEX PASS SUBSCRIPTIONS are on sale now and offer savings of more than 25% off regular adult prices.

Curtain Call is the award-winning, non-profit community-based theatre company in residence at The Sterling Farms Theatre Complex, 1349 Newfield Avenue in Stamford. Year-round productions are presented by and for area residents in The Kweskin Theatre and The Dressing Room Theatre. After-school, evening and weekend educational workshops in the performing arts are also offered year-round for ages five through adult. Curtain Call’s fall session of acting classes and other performing arts curriculum for all ages will begin in late September. A full listing of what’s offered and the teaching artists on staff are available at www.curtaincallinc.com. 

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.

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

Mary Poppins at Chelmsford (MA) High School

Angelica Potter 

I walked into the Carl J. Rondina Performing Arts Center last night with high expectations for the opening night performance of the Broadway musical Mary Poppins. The musical is based on the classic stories from P. L. Travers and the Walt Disney film. Though not a sold out performance, the audience was enthusiastic as they took their seats and the lights dimmed.

A beautifully painted curtain depicting the stairs and front door of the Bank’s home on Cherry Tree Lane hung down over the stage. As soon as Bert (Timmy Chase) stepped onto the stage and began the prologue, I knew that the audience was in for a treat. From his opening line to his final flying flip, Timmy Chase was absolutely brilliant. He reminded me of the great Dick Van Dyke, who, alongside the unparalleled Julie Andrews in Walt Disney’s film, brought Bert and Mary Poppins to life. It’s been just over fifty years since Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews sang and danced their way into our hearts as these charming and wonderful characters.

While no one could ever surpass the original, in this musical production, Timmy Chase as Bert and Caroline Flynn as Mary Poppins came very close and were “Practically Perfect.” Caroline with her clear, beautiful voice brought joy, laughter and pure fun every time she walked or rather flew onto the stage. Although both are graduating this year from Chelmsford High, these two young performers are ones to watch for in the coming years. I am sure, if last night’s show is any indication, that we’ve not seen the last of their incredible talent for them, high school is only the beginning.  

Other highlights include wonderful choreography by student choreographers and lead dancers: Amanda LoCoco, Taylor Erikson and Marisa Getchell. I especially want to commend them on their work on the ensemble pieces of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and “Step in Time”. Both pieces are energetically up-tempo and can be intimidating to even the most experienced choreographers yet these ladies nailed it; with quick and inventive arm movements during “Supercal…” and strong, clear tapping in “Step in Time”, these young choreographers had the entire audience clapping and cheering throughout each number. 

Though no production is without its slip-ups, Chelmsford High’s ambitious production of Mary Poppins is a fun and charming night out.  Surely, with Caroline Flynn and Timmy Chase leading the way as Mary Poppins and Bert, it is certain to have a weekend full of well-deserved standing ovations. 

Mary Poppins is playing through Saturday May 9th at the Carl J. Rondina Performing Arts Center in Chelmsford, Massachusetts. Tickets can be purchased online at http://www.showclix.com/event/MaryPoppins5245257