Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Mary Poppins
Hale Centre Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's reviews of Radium Girls and The Rocky Horror Show


Heidi-Liz Johnson
Photo by Nick Woodward-Shaw
"Practically perfect" is a phrase that P. L. Travers' literary character Mary Poppins uses to refer to herself. With an excellent cast and bright creative elements, it's also a phrase one could use to refer to Hale Centre Theatre's current production of this stage musical adaptation.

Travers' series of young children's books about the infamous nanny, which was set in 1900s London, were turned into the classic 1964 Walt Disney film and then expanded into a family-friendly stage musical in 2004. The plot focuses on the slightly dysfunctional Banks family, who are visited by the sensible and matter of fact nanny Mary Poppins. Over a short period of time Mary, with assistance from her friend Bert, helps to improve the family dynamics using her magical powers and her sense of imagination.

The musical uses many of the beloved Sherman Brothers songs from the Disney film, including "Chim Chim Cher-ee," "A Spoonful of Sugar," and "Feed the Birds," plus adds in several new one by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. Julian Fellowes' book manages to combine several memorable moments from the film with elements from the books while also providing plenty of tension, humor and charm along with the beautiful sense of imagination that Travers' character of Mary is known to encourage.

The entire Hale cast doesn't disappoint. (There are two casts for this production and on the night I attended the Blue cast was performing.) As Mary and Bert, respectively, Heidi-Liz Johnson and Nicholas Gunnell are both exceptional. This pair played these roles in Mesa Encore Theatre's production of the show a few seasons back and their portrayals are even better here. Johnson is perfect as the strict yet well-meaning and loving Mary, and Gunnell's spirited take on the fun-loving Bert brings a giddy amount of infectious glee to this production. Both have superb singing voices that excel on the many well-known songs in the show, assured English accents, and wonderful dancing skills. They also add layers and dimension to their roles which ensure these classic characters are vibrantly brought to life.

Mychal Leverage and Rochelle Barton do very good work depicting the stubborn, work-centered George Banks and mother Winnifred Banks, who comes into her own throughout the show, respectively. With strong singing voices and excellent comic timing, Mason Berchman and Zach Thompson are excellent as their children. In the supporting cast, Savannah Alfred is exceptional as both the Banks' frustrated maid and the lovable Mrs. Corry, who sings "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" with the whole cast. Alfred's superb comic timing and bright singing voice deliver the best performances of either role in the several productions of this show I've seen. Suze St. John's pure singing voice brings warmth and meaning to her solo with Johnson of "Feed the Birds" and she also plays the evil nanny Miss Andrew with relish. As the bumbling, accident-prone Banks houseboy Robertson Ay, Chris Reah is hilarious. He and Alfred form a winning comic duo that get big laughs.

Director Cambrian James does good work keeping the humor and sentimental elements of the story in check so the sweet, emotional moments never seem cloying or forced. His staging makes good use of the various entrances into Hale's in-the-round space. However, the two scenes that are staged on the northwest balcony, including the act one finale, aren't visible from some of the north section seats, which is a shame. James' choreography is fun and varied with several numbers that build into complete showstoppers. Brian Daily's set design uses several movable elements, along with realistic projections by Joshua Lindblom and Jessica Ottley, to depict the various locations in the show. Tim Dietlein's lighting design paints the stage with gorgeous colors, shadows, and shimmering lights. The costumes by Tia Hawkes are beautiful, including character-specific designs for the main characters, and a wide assortment of costumes for the ensemble that range from the colorful pastel dresses and suits for the ensemble members to the dark chimney sweep clothing for the entire ensemble for the "Step in Time" number.

Mary Poppins is a wonderful musical that not only has loveable characters and toe-tapping tunes but also illustrates an important life lesson about taking time to enjoy your loved ones and the world around you. With a gifted cast and sure-footed direction, Hale Centre Theatre's production of this family friendly musical is charming, fun, and even quite touching.

Mary Poppins runs through November 20, 2021, at Hale Centre Theatre, 50 W. Page Avenue, Gilbert AZ. For tickets and information, visit www.haletheatrearizona.com or call 480-497-1181

Producers and Casting Directors: David and Corrin Dietlein
Director/Choreographer: Cambrian James
Music Director: Lincoln Wright

Set Technical Director: Brian Daily
Lighting Designer: Tim Dietlein
Costume Designer: Tia Hawkes
Head Prop and Paint Designer: McKenna Carpenter
Sound Design: Jackson Zyontz
Wigs and Makeup: Cambrian James
Projections Designer: Joshua Lindblom and Jessica Ottley
Audio Engineer: Jackson Zyontz
Stage Manager: Joshua Lindblom
Dance Captains: Ashley Bauer and Abbi Cavanaugh

Cast:
Mary Poppins: Heidi-Liz Johnson
Bert: Nicholas Gunnell
George Banks: Mychal Leverage
Winifred Banks: Rochelle Barton
Jane Banks: Mason Berchman
Michael Banks: Zach Thompson
Mrs. Brill / Mrs. Corry: Savannah Alfred
Miss Andrew / Bird Woman: Suze St. John
Admiral Boom / Bank Chairman: Ryan Monaghan
Robertson Ay / Ensemble: Chris Reah
Neleus / Ensemble: Greg Rawlings
Ensemble: Zack Pepe, Xingyu Wang, Ashley Bauer, Kayleah Wilson, Makenna Jacobs, Krista Monaghan, Ariana Lucius


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