Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
When producer Cameron Mackintosh wanted to put Mary Poppins onto the stage, he thought to darken things a bit, closer to P.L. Travers' original stories, so he brought in English composer George Stiles and lyricist Anthony Drewe, whom I have much admired for their work on Honk, Just So, and one on my bucket list to see, Soho Cinders. Stiles and Drewe did indeed darken the piece, although their work is variable, and not equal to their best work. The real problem is that the two composer/lyricist teams are incompatible, oil and water. The Sherman brothers have such a unique style that almost anyone trying to fit songs into one of their projects is going to have great difficulty. The book by Julian Fellowes does not effectively tell a clear story, whereas the film version simply strung multiple adventures together to form its story arc.
Producing Artistic Director Rick Kerby does his usual sensational job of mustering his forces for a fine, tight production. Ensemble dancing and the general cast was less than optimally crisp on the day I attended, the beginning of a new week when cobwebs may have needed to be knocked off a bit.
Sarah Cassidy, one of Rick Kerby's favorite leading ladies, is dream casting for the role of Mary Poppins. She is spot on with only a slight vocal huskiness betray some possible fatigue. Once again I am reminded that beyond her singing, she is also a fine dancer. Kevin Steele, new to me, as Bert has a bio that shows a lengthy professional career behind him, presumably as a dancer. He is an eccentric dancer, in the style of Ray Bolger, and I kept imagining one of our community theaters reviving one of my favorite musicals, Frank Loesser's Where's Charley? for him. Unfortunately, beyond the dancing and a bit of singing here and there, the part has been decimated. He never gets to sing a full version of "Chim Chim Cher-ee."
Shannon Wright is Mrs. Winifred Banks, which doesn't offer much in the way of opportunities. "Sister Suffragette," her song from the movie version, which I like a lot, is missing in action. Cory Woomert is dependably good as George Banks, although the writing doesn't help. The actor's greatest contribution is to offer up his youngest son Asher to play Michael Banks at half the performances (Liam Mueller plays the other half), while Sage Miller and Hannah Lee split the performances as Jane. Other fine supporting performances are offered by Rodd Dyer (Admiral Boom, Bank Chairman and Policeman), Jessica Babcock (Mrs. Brill), Luke Manual McFatrich (Robertson Ay), Victoria Gross (Miss Andrew), Linda Roeming (Miss Lark) carrying Izzy (Willoughby), and Alice Byrne (The Bird Woman).
This Mary Poppins has all the earmarks of a Rick Kerby production: excellent ensemble, fine sets by Ken Mooney, colorful costumes by Timothy Belty, excellent lighting by Patrick Bedell, and outstanding projections by Jay Poppe. Gremlins are again lurking in Manatee Performing Arts Center, as much of the dialogue is very difficult to understand, a major problem with this theater the first couple of years it was open. They seemed to have that problem licked, so lets not let the acoustics slip away, please.
Mary Poppins, through March 3, 2019, at Manatee Center for the Performing Arts, 502 3rd Ave W., Bradenton FL. For tickets and information, call 941-748-0111 or visit manateeplayers.com.