Historical entertainment planned for joint celebration of three Southwest Arkansas milestone anniversaries
I have to admit I was a bit skeptical as to whether I would enjoy a musical performance about everyone's favorite deus ex machina nanny. However, witty one-liners, operatic-like singing and acrobatic dancing won me over.
For those who have no clue or those who have forgotten and have yet to revisit the Disney film: "Mary Poppins" takes us to 1910 London, where both the prosperous Victorian period and the patience of many a nanny given the daunting task of looking after the rambunctious Michael and Jane Banks have ended. Their parents, George and Winifred Banks, struggle to find a suitable nanny for their young ones, preferably a stern one. The children have something different in mind and place an advertisement for a more kind hearted caregiver. Enter Mary Poppins, whose Pollyannaish outlook (accompanied by song and dance) transforms the lives of not only the children, but their parents as well; particularly Mr. Banks, whose stringent upbringing and career in the dog-eat-dog world of finance has left him unimaginative and losing sight of the importance of family.
Like any musical, the songs take center stage in the production. We get the usual suspects, like, "Let's Go Fly a Kite, " "A Spoon Full of Sugar" and "Chim Chim Cher-ee." But the more standout classic number, "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" highlights the passion and pipes of the voice of Mary Poppins, (played here by Elizabeth DeRosa, who previously played Eliza Doolittle in a production of "My Fair Lady"). The other standout classic gem, "Step in Time," highlights the oscillating sounds of the chimney sweep ensemble and Poppins' friend Bert (played by Brian Letendre), swaying from soothing and peaceful to firm and heavy. The choreography for "Step in Time" makes it one of the more memorable pieces of the entire performance. The agility of the ensemble in this set, with their spins and stepping, bears an uncanny resemblance to the moves one would see at a black fraternity step show (just replace the chimney sweep broom with a cane).
Cast members make full use of the space. We see Poppins gracefully levitating to and fro and kites are lifted off the ground, hovering in the air as if on actual wind. Off the stage, the ensemble rushes through the aisles to join the others on the platform during some of the musical numbers, giving the production a vivid, three-dimensional feel. The production's lighting makes use of a myriad of colors (notably, green, blue and red), particularly during songs, to further set the moods.
The production is as visually impressive as the musical choreography. One of the primary set pieces consists of a large silhouette structure outlining the London skyline, replete with skyscrapers. The vastness of the design gives the impression that the city is big enough for anything to happen. On the other hand, the set for the Bankses' residence leaves something to be desired. The design comes across as extremely two-dimensional, leaving one to wonder if the piece was made in such a way to quickly make room for the other set pieces — Poppins and the children are far from homebodies after all.
Last, but not least, some performances worth noting are those of Miss Andrew (the former nanny of Mr. Banks, played by Q. Smith) and Michael and Jane Banks (played by Madison Stolzer and Addison Rae Dowdy, respectively). Smith's delivery of humor and her voice, which definitely has a gospel influence, will have you wanting to see more of her. Stolzer and Dowdy's performances are commendable overall, as they master speaking and singing in a British accent.
The care and detail that have gone into "Mary Poppins" is reason enough to see it. Be prepared for a long standing ovation during the curtain call for this one.