Don’t expect a recreation of Disney’s spoonful ofsugar in this 25th anniversary production of Mary Poppins from Western Nevada Musical Theatre Company. Instead, you’ll find a pair of ornery kids, a father with his own sad childhood and resentful toys looking to teach some manners. But the special effects and spot-on casting ensure that audiences still will find plenty to love.
Not that the Broadway treatment doesn’t retain a lot of Disney magic. There’s a room that cleans itself and a nanny who can fly and carries a bottomless carpet bag full of goodies. Plus, most of the beloved songs from the film appear here, too, along with several new ones.
But this version, with help from writer Julian Fellowes (of Downton Abbey fame), has children who really are troublesome. Jane and Michael Banks (Kimora Whitacre and Jayse Gillott) tear up the kitchen, taunt the housekeeping staff, and treat their belongings poorly. Then there’s their dad, George Banks (Mark D. Williams), who can’t be bothered to kiss his wife or wish his children good night. It turns out he was brought up by a cruel nanny, which might explain his behavior. Now he’s made a questionable decision about a loan at the bank where he works, and his job is in jeopardy. Meanwhile, his wife, Winnifred (Christina Bourne), is a former actress who often questions her choice to leave the stage and become a subservient wife to this demanding man.
Mary Poppins (Hannah Eckert) takes her young charges on adventures that somewhat resemble those in the film—a tea party inside a drawing where penguins wait tables and dance, and a rooftop party with chimney sweeps. But several are brand new. For instance, they pay a visit to the “Talk Shop,” where Mrs. Corry (Ann Black) peddles letters that help them make a new word: Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. They meet a statue who sings and dances. There is no race aboard carousel horses, and no visit to Uncle Albert’s laughing gas luncheon.
Producer/director Stephanie Arrigotti saw Mary Poppins on Broadway and figured it was probably too amazing to ever produce here, yet she decided to pull out all the stops for the company’s 25th anniversary show. The effects here really do seem magical, thanks to wire work that enables the cast to fly or climb the sides of buildings, along with kitchen cabinets that can clean themselves and a carpet bag that produces fanciful objects seemingly out of nowhere.
Eckert appeared this time last year as Eliza Doolittle in WNMTC’s production of My Fair Lady, and I liked her as much then as I do Mary Poppins now. She manages to embody the persona one would expect from the world’s greatest nanny: prim, polished, practically perfect … and with a knockout voice. She’s matched in talent by Brad Fitch as Bert, with a voice that’s just as powerful and lovely to hear, despite the fact that his English accent is just as bad as Dick Van Dyke’s was.
The choreography in the “Step in Time” number, which I feel is actually superior to that of the film, brought the audience to its feet.
This Sunday matinee performance had its fair share of technical gaffes, as well as a few missed lines and a stumble from a dancer. None of this was distracting or affected my family’s enjoyment of the show. WNMTC is nothing if not polished and performance-ready, in general. The show is a bit too long, in my opinion—about three hours with intermission—but my 6-year-old daughter left charmed and ready to return nonetheless.
In short, don’t expect to fall in love with this Banks family as readily as you may have in the Disney film, but their adventures are equally fun, and their foibles make the syrupy-sweet ending even more satisfying and well-deserved.