Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

Mary Poppins
Near West Theatre
Review by Mark Horning

Also see David's review of Something Rotten!


Devon Turchan and Meg Martinez
Photo Courtesy of Near West Theatre
In a word, the Near West Theatre production of Mary Poppins is terrific. In fact, you could easily say that it is supercalifra ... well, you know. The show consists of a diverse cast of 65 members who range in age from 7 to 65 (some of whom have never been on stage before). The secret to Near West Theatre's success is the fact that a blind eye was used during casting. Gender, ethnicity, age, or physical appearance was never considered. NWT is only interested in uncovering and developing hidden talent through a ten-week rehearsal process and bringing it on stage.

It is 1914 in England. The Banks family has lost their sixth nanny in just four months due to their precocious children Jane (Sophie O'Leary or Calista Zajac) and Michael (Phil Pantalone or Macon Taylor). George Banks (Andrew Narten) works at a bank in a mid-management position that takes all of his time and energy. He cannot be bothered with any domestic details.

As the latest failed nanny departs, Mr. Banks orders his wife Winifred (Cory Markowitz) to find yet another replacement who is qualified but inexpensive (showing the tenuous household financial situation). The children make a seemingly rare appearance with their idea of an advertisement for the new nanny. After hearing the children's request, Mr. Banks takes the paper and burns it in the fireplace. As he goes to leave for work in walks Mary Poppins (Meg Martinez), with the scorched paper in hand, which convinces Mrs. Banks to hire her.

Through the use of magic, love and common sense Mary Poppins soon has the entire household captivated. While visiting the local park with the two thoroughly bored children in tow she meets up with Bert (Devon Turchan) as the park is transformed into a magical land full of dancing flowers, talking statues, and a living carousel.

The fortunes of the Banks family takes a turn for the worse after Mary Poppins and the children visit Mr. Banks at work, which has an influence on him as he decides to lend money based on the man rather than the proposal. The bank disagrees and places him on leave without pay.

Back home, the children argue with Mary Poppins about how they treat their toys and after placing the children in a sleeping trance brings the toys to life to harass the children. Mary Poppins then abruptly leaves.

With Mary Poppins gone, Winifred searches out Mr. Bank's old nanny, Miss Andrew (Stafford Hartman), who is known far and wide as "The Holy Terror" who brings her cure-all cod liver oil that is freely administered to the children who run away to the park. They meet up with Bert who helps them fly a kite as Mary Poppins returns to help set everything right again.

There are top notch performances by everyone involved. Meg Martinez is perfect in the lead and brings a perfect nanniness to the role. Her singing voice is wonderfully suited for the number of songs required, in a variety of ranges. Devon Turchan as Bert does a delightful turn as the Jack of all trades, singing, dancing and acting with aplomb. Andrew Narten as George Banks has the difficult task of transforming from stuffy British banker to loving father and husband. He does so convincingly. Cory Markowitz is the put upon Winifred Banks, who is the glue that holds the family together. She does a smashing job relating with each character on a personal level and has a beautiful singing voice to boot. The opening night show featured Sophie O'Leary and Phil Pantalone as Jane and Michael Banks with both doing a respectable rendition of their characters.

Performers of special note include Gwen Stembridge as Mrs. Brill (housekeeper and cook), who has the most delightful accent. Even when the action is not centered on her she can be found doing little bits in the corners that are a delight. Her male counterpart, Roger Lowe, as Robertson Ay (the house's odd job man), does some marvelous slapstick bits. Stafford Hartman as "The Holy Terror" Miss Andrew steals the show. Her time on stage is brief, but she is brilliant during her rendition of Brimstone and Treacle as she later meets her match with the indomitable Mary Poppins.

Special note must also be made of the many behind the scene workers who make this production so special. These include director Bob Navis, Jr. whose love of Broadway musicals and the people under his charge helps bring these complex shows together, Joshua Landis and his assistant Melanie Campbell whose choreography is a joy to behold as nearly the entire cast is onstage for a number of dance sequences while somehow managing not to bump into each other, Cameron Michalak's set design with its amazing quick changes between scenes (all due to his very well trained stage crew), Sarah Russell who had the formidable task of designing over one hundred costumes for all shapes and sizes of actors, Adam Ditzel and Michael Stein who went far beyond in their lighting design that truly sets the mood from joyous to somber and many in between, Josh Caraballo whose balanced sound design does not drop a single line of dialog, and most important, Mathew Dolan and his wonderful group of musicians who fill the theater with music "in the most delightful way."

This is a show the entire family will enjoy but be forewarned that it weighs in at three hours plus a ten minute intermission, so little ones may begin to get a bit uncomfortable in their theater seats.

By definition, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious simply means fantastic, wonderful, and extraordinarily good. The same can be said of the Near West Theatre production of Mary Poppins. The show has it all—huge dance numbers, tender moments, wonderful singing, laugh out loud moments, and most importantly, a flying Mary Poppins. It is sure to be a sellout throughout its run as it is the best theater value in town. No spoonful of sugar is needed for this show; it is sweet enough on its own.

The Near West Theatre production of Mary Poppins will be on stage through May 21, 2017, at their complex located at 6702 Detroit Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio. General admission ticket prices are $10 for adults and $8 for children age 12 and under with reserved Star Seats available for $25 each. Tickets may be purchased by calling 216-961-6391, by stopping by the box office during office hours, or online at http://www.nearwesttheatre.org.


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