MILLBURN, NJ – It’s lively, it’s heart-warming and it’s a superb ending to the Paper Mill Playhouse season. “Mary Poppins” entices audiences to come back for more spectacular theatre in the fall.
Elena Shaddow is the strict yet magical nanny who descends on the Banks family with an umbrella and a carpet bag full of wonders and surprises. Shaddow perfectly captures the staunch no-nonsense attitude as the nanny while gradually enveloping the children in a spirit of fun and adventure.
The cast is outstanding all the way around. Mark Evans as Bert, the chimney sweep, often weaves in the songs that keep it all afloat and is fleet on his feet as well. “Step in Time” with all the chimney sweeps on stage is a real winner, full of energy, tight and lively dancing, choreographed by Denis Jones. Wisely, the stage production has maintained many of the movie’s delirious ballads and songs, including “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” “Chim Chim Cher-ee” and “A Spoonful of Sugar.” Some of the music and plot may be on the sentimental side, but the overall story of a family that is having its ups and downs rings true.
Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman wrote the original music and lyrics, with new songs added by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. The production was co-created by Cameron Mackintosh and boasts a book by Julian Fellowes (of Downton Abby fame). Of course, none of this would exist without author P. L. Travers and her series of Mary Poppins stories.
Adam Monley is George Banks and Jill Paice is his wife Winifred. Early on, we see that George is caught up in his bank business and thinks his wife’s former career as an actress was frivolous. It all takes place in 1899-1900 on Cherry Tree Lane in London. In a film about the making of the Disney movie, called “Saving Mr. Banks,” the author says the story isn’t about the children or the nanny, but about the father. We see in this production how his rigid attitude is causing difficulties with his wife and children. At the Sunday evening performance, the children Jane and Michael were played by Abbie Grace Levi and John Michael Pitera. They were suitably annoying on occasion, gradually changing from brats to the beginnings of understanding under the sure hand of Mary Poppins.
Other remarkable performances come from Liz McCartney as the Bird Woman and Miss Andrew. She conveys both characters with insight, representing compassion in one and deemed a holy terror in the other. Danielle K. Thomas as Mrs. Corry is sensational in the “Supercalifrag” song, which practically brought down the house as well. The ensemble is smart and lively with its clever signs spelling out the word.
Timothy R. Mackabee’s clever scenic design, Leon Dobkowski’s bright and engaging costumes and Charlie Morrison’s lighting all added to an exuberant experience. The shimmering stars at night and foggy rooftops lend another dimension. Mark S. Hoebee has directed this enchanting musical with grand pacing and attention to detail.
The show probably could have ended with “Anything Can Happen” when the entire company was on stage. But this audience was glad to see more. I could have lived without the fake barking dog, which is more of a diversion than integral to the plot, and the chimney sweeps didn’t need to prance thorough the Banks house at the end of the “ Step in Time” number. Nevertheless, these are minor observations in a show that’s brimming with hope, magic and humanity.
“Mary Poppins” continues at Paper Mill Playhouse, 22 Brookside Drive in Millburn through June 25.