Regional Reviews: Seattle
A Jolly Holiday with Mary Poppins Awaits at the Paramount
Also see David's review of The Prisoner of Second Avenue
As in the film, jack of all trades Bert narrates the tale (with "Chim Chim Cher-ee" as the running musical motif) of how the veddy British household of George Banks and Winifred Banks is desperately seeking the perfect nanny for the rambunctious Banks children, Jane and Michael. Quicker than you can say supercali ..., well you know, Mary Poppins shows up and the family is in for the ride of their lives. Living statues, dancing chimney sweeps, anything can happen when Mary is around to right things. A great subplot develops when Mary takes off for awhile and Winifred tracks down George's own most lauded and exulted nanny Miss Andrew to take over. Miss A turns out to be a harridan who believes "Brimstone and Treacle" is a far better tonic than Mary's spoonful of sugar, but of course we know differently, don't we? Poppins pops back in and disposes of Miss Andrew most appropriately. There is much more to the story, but you are best advised to discover it for yourselves.
A delicious cast invests their hearts and souls into the beloved characters, and there is not a weak performance in the bunch. Steffanie Leigh is great fun as a rather more impudent Mary Poppins and creates a characterization that both Walt Disney and P.L. Travers would have approved of. Nicholas Dromard is a tirelessly charming and supernaturally energetic scamp of a Bert. Laird Mackintosh looks a bit young for the weary workaholic that is George Banks, but acts the role to perfection as he learns how to be the father Jane and Michael need, while Blythe Wilson is endearingly appealing as a rather more complex Mrs. Banks who gave up the stage to be a mum. Wilson has a lovely voice as well and makes Mrs. Bank's ballad "Being Mrs. Banks" a highlight among the new songs in the show. Q. Smith as Miss Andrew is just about the wickedest critter this side of Margaret Hamilton, with an astonishing voice to boot. And get ready to have your heart melted by the outstanding rendition of "Feed the Birds" delivered with grace and nuance by Janet MacEwen as the Bird Lady.
Marissa Smoker and Talon Ackerman were the game pair of young thespians essaying the roles of Jane and Michael on opening night, and Ackerman was particularly engaging. Josh Assor takes the top terpsichorean honors as the living statue Neleus, Michelle E. White ably holds center stage as Mrs. Corry in "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," and Michael McCarty is an old-school trouper as Admiral Boom and the Bank Chairman.
The whole show seems lighter and breezier than I recall feeling it did on Broadway. Since the Broadway opening, the nightmarish "Temper, Temper" where the Banks children's toys come scoldingly to life, has been supplanted by the lighter-hued "Playing the Game." The team of Stiles and Drewe succeeds best in their additional lyrics for the Shermans' songs, with the balance of their work ranging from impressive ("Brimstone and Treacle," "Practically Perfect") to perfectly adequate ("Anything Can Happen"). Scenic and Costume design by Bob Crowley is of the highest order, with the touring set impressively rethought for the tour, losing none of its magic. Howard Harrison's fine lighting design is another of the myriad things to appreciate about the show.
Mary Poppins I think is the finest "take the whole family" musical out there, and as the Paramount is running it till May 29th you really have no reason to put off taking yours!
Mary Poppins runs at Seattle's Paramount Theatre through May 29th. For tickets or information call 877-STG-4TIX (877-784-4849) or visit them online at www.stgpresents.org. For more information on the tour, visit disney.go.com/theatre/marypoppins/tour/.
See the list of this season's theatre offerings in the Seattle area.- David Edward Hughes