Mary Poppins is a Family Favorite, a Great Production (5 stars)
by Nisreen Galloway
Mary Poppins runs July 12-31, 2016 at the North Shore Music Theatre, with Original Music & Lyrics by Richard M. Sherman & Robert B. Sherman, Book By Julian Fellowes, New Song & Additional Music & Lyrics by Anthony Drewe & George Stiles, Co-Created by Cameron Mackintosh, with Kevin P. Hill (Director, Choreographer, Producing Artistic Director), Milton Granger (Music Direction), Bert Scott (Scenic Design), Mark Nagle (Costume Coordinatoon and Additional Costume Design), Daniel Erdberg (Sound Design), Kurt Alger (Hair and Wig Design), ZFX, Inc. (Flying Effects), and starring Kerry Conte, Brad Bradley, James Andrew Walsh, and Molly Garner. See www.nsmt.org.
On a cold London day, Mary Poppins, a beautiful and charmingly self-assured woman makes her first appearance in the home of the Banks family. Flying in from above us, she dazzles and wonders children and adults alike from her eloquently dressed red jacket and black umbrella to her poised feet as she lands perfectly, like magic, into the center of the stage.
In the North Shore Music Theatre, it is easy to be swept up in the magic and awe of their production of Mary Poppins. With no back-of-house and a center circular stage, actors exit and enter through the aisles, stage decor appears and disappears at a flick of the wrist, and static pieces of the set, the silhouette of a 1910 London hung around the stage, are expertly used to project interactive holographs and lighting. Butterflies fly and land as Mary Poppins belts "Practically Perfect", shimmering stars twinkle as children watch along, and pockets of sunshine beam onto the park transformed into a warm summer's day. The scenery is so immersive, it takes me until intermission to realize that the set itself extends into the aisles and rows of seats behind and around me--Steaming chimney tops and the kitchen area of the Banks home resides in the middle of an aisle seating.
While the set design is an impressive feat in itself, the real charms of the North Shore Music Theatre's rendition of Mary Poppins are the special effects, blocking, and of course, the abundance of talent that proves anything can happen if you let it. It's easy to imagine that with the North Shore Music Theatre's circular stage, one would see the backs of main characters often, but every seat in the house has a great view. It's especially helpful that the set has a rotating center that carries characters easily along stage as they belt out beautiful operatic renditions of "Being Mrs Banks" and "Spoonful of Sugar". Overall the production's use of props that float onto the stage ( is that falling snow actually, bubbles?), a drop-down stage that brings up beds and sends down evil nannies, and of course, a harnessed and flying Mary Poppins, makes this production one that is guaranteed fun for the whole family.
Beyond the technical aspects of the show, a great production of a famous musical really comes down to its actors and the North Shore Musical Theatre has no shortage of talent. From the talented steps and charming chagrin of Bert (Brad Bradley) to the smallest and youngest of the cast young Jane (Scarlett Keene-Connole) and Michael (Jake Ryan Flynn), songs were sung flawlessly, notes held endlessly, and performances were professional and timely. Michael and Jane were adorable and bratty in their own right and sang in beautiful harmony and stood their own even when they could've been easily lost in big numbers. Their professionalism and talent was inspiring for such young actors and I look forward to seeing them in more! Mrs Banks (Molly Garner) was a breath of fresh air with her crisp clear range and ability to pull you into every emotion. While Mr. Banks (James Andrew Walsh) was great, I felt his performance in the second act was much better and by the end, he was just as loved as the rest. Mary Poppins played by Kerry Conte was a true show stopper. Her connection and chemistry with every member of the cast was electric and her dancing and singing talent was amazing. I loved how she played Mary Poppins with a bit more sass than other productions and really made her one liners stick with a charming smile and quick delivery. It was also hard not to notice the palpable chemistry between her and Bert making me wonder more about Mary Poppins backstory than ever before.
The live music by the orchestra was so much fun and perfect volume for that venue size. There were little to no downfalls in this production and where they were evident the cast handled them in stride. When kites weren't flown and dived into audiences a small treat was brought to the audience member at the end of show during final curtain. When mics didn't work, the cast soldiered on and projected so you almost forgot the mic had dropped. (The hiccups early in a show will have been corrected for future performances, of course.) All in all, it was a perfect family show and judging by the number of happy kids leaving the audience at the end of the night, it's bound to be a family favorite for the summer.
Learn more at www.nsmt.org.
Find reviewer Nisreen Galloway at www.nisreengalloway.com, or @nissycookies on Twitter.