OREM — The stage version of Mary Poppins differs from the Disney film in many ways. George Stiles and Anthony Drewe added new songs like “Practically Perfect,” and tweaked Richard and Robert Sherman’s original ones, like “Step in Time.” Some scenes, “Jolly Holiday” being one, are plucked up and dropped into an entirely new setting. Most significantly, this Mary Poppins carries with it a more serious tone, and a spoonful of distress. Co-creator Cameron Mackintosh made many of these changes in an attempt to bring the film version closer to the original books by P. L. Travers.
In the stage musical I enjoyed the added depth to both Mr. and Mrs. Banks, but didn’t love the harsher treatment of the children. Mr. Banks is actually quite mean to Jane, Michael, and his wife until the end. Winifred Banks grows as a person throughout the storyline, and I liked the natural way that Bri Hintze portrayed that change while keeping Mrs. Bank ever dedicated to her husband. This was highlighted in one new song that I really loved called “Being Mrs. Banks.” George Banks evolves too, but in a more bumpy way. He makes an ethical decision at his bank, which was a good step. But no real change happens until he is reunited with his horrible childhood nanny, and that run-in scares him to change. I choose to assume the best of Garrett Smit’s acting and blame this jerky journey on the script. The exit of his terrible nanny Miss Andrew was incredibly creepy, as was her entire personality; Kelsey Thacker admirably portrayed that vile human being.
SCERA is a community theater with unpaid actors, and yet the cast was basically solid. The actors who played Mary, Bert, Jane, and Michael are each so suited to this production. Josie Nilson’s beautiful singing voice easily reached each of Mary Poppins’s notes, and I especially like how she carried herself. My only issues with Nilson, such as her harsh portrayal of Mary Poppins, are really due to Cameron Mackintosh’s script. The children were terrific—I loved Laura Randall as Jane and Maxwell Rimington as Michael. They are so talented, and Rimington delivers some of the best lines of the play.
Additionally, Paul Black is the glue of this production, as he plays the adorable Bert. Black was animated, athletic, and pretty much just good at everything. He got some major air on his jumps and kicked the crap out of that kickline. In short, Black was the ideal Bert. Finally, a couple supporting actors I especially noticed were Hannah Christensen as Cook, and Eric Johnson as the bank chairman.
I loved the whole concept and execution of the Talking Shop, which is the musical’s setting for “Supercalifradulisticexpialidocious.” It’s a clever addition to the script, and the cast and crew lit up the stage. The vibrant costumes and set pieces were perfectly paired with the bubbling joy of the shop owner Mrs. Corry. Celesta Rimington was a delightfully sprite old woman in a crazy Victorian wig and cupcake-like costume. Mrs. Corry’s daughters (Rachel Gibson and Emily Hill) wore stilts beneath their costumes and I loved the interaction between them and Bert. The talented ensemble helped this scene grow and grow, until it filled the stage with color and dance. Shawn Mortensen and Scott Sackett created the wonderful choreography for these actors. My two favorite dance moments were the a capella tapping in “Step In Time” and the graceful ballroom dance between Bert and Mary.
The main characters had costumes similar to the film; Mary Poppins’ blue suit and carpetbag were perfect. I felt, though, that Mr. Banks’ costume pieces ought to have been more tailored and neat, to fit his character. However, costume designer Deborah Bowman created very convincing statue-people with Juliette Lewis’s help in hair and makeup.
There is flying in this production. More than I’d like, actually, because it only feels magical the first time. Terry Nelson directed the flying, and it looked very safe. But the flying equipment, the set, and the director’s staging didn’t mesh for the rest of the play. The cream walls of the nursery looked terrible with black cables attached to the actors, and there were just too many characters randomly floating throughout the show. It’s an effect that should be used sparingly.
“Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” was a surprisingly morose scene, and “Step in Time” just isn’t as good with Mackintosh forcing a deeper meaning into it. But other moments succeeded, like the always touching “Feed the Birds,” which director Jeremy Showgren staged simply and sweetly. It is a special thing when Michael takes the Birdwoman’s hand, and Bri Hintze and Garrett Smit have a precious moment on the same Cathedral steps.
SCERA has a big outdoor stage, and the cast worked together to execute the many scene changes. The characters fit naturally into Nat Reed’s design of the Bankses’ home on Cherry Tree Lane, but things seemed a little awkward when the house was turned around. Smaller sets came on and off, like the Talking Shop, or the bank, and these worked well with the space. In scenes like “Step In Time” or “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” though, the scene was overshadowed by the scale of the stage. There was impressive dancing going on in “Step In Time,” and I could tell the director had done his best with the space he had, but visually it fell short of my expectations.
The only lighting flub I saw from designer Elizabeth Griffiths was during the final “Anything Can Happen,” in which the entire cast was on stage, being lit from the side, and short Jane and Michael were barely visible. On another technical note, I’m a sucker for a good sound system, and Kendall Bowman did not disappoint in this respect.
Although I prefer the film, the musical production of Mary Poppins is still entertaining and memorable. Themes of changing the world and valuing family are great souvenirs to bring home. SCERA’s talented team have worked very hard, and it shows. My favorite images from Showgren’s production, and the ones that I will remember are: (1) the big finish in the Talking Shop, (2) Mr. Banks on his knees like a child, and (3) the sweet nursery scene that concludes the show.