LOGAN — As far as first impressions go, The Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre knows how to make an entrance in their production of Mary Poppins. The show started with Timothy Stewart’s strong and rich vocals as he portrayed Bert right down to the endearing swagger. Behind him was a detailed and frankly jaw-dropping set of the Banks’s home, from the floor to the roof top and everything in between. The next few minutes were a bustle as a dozen characters or so came in and out. The energy was high and exciting, and to settle the whirlwind, Mary Poppins, played by Amanda Compton LoPresti magically appeared at the top of the stairs.
The challenge to play such iconic roles as Bert and Mary Poppins is tough. After all, how does one measure up to Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke? In this production, Stewart and LoPresti accomplished it. Stewart’s Bert surpassed Van Dyke in singing, lovability, and even in humor at times, while LoPresti’s Mary Poppins played the tongue-in-cheek aspect of an English nanny better then sweet Julie Andrews. I loved her sass. LoPresti’s Mary Poppins’s and Stewart’s Bert’s chemistry surpassed their predecessors; there was a sweetness and deep respect that was heart-warming.
Of all the things to be impressed with in this production, the professionalism, skill, and commitment of the child actors is at the top of the list. Mia Jane Ballam playing Jane Banks and Boston Clemens playing Michael Banks repeatedly stole the show with their comedic timing and spunk, and the two child actors never missed a note.
All of the acting was solid, especially by some of the minor characters. Park Keeper played by Cary J. Youmans was notable. The Park Keeper’s initial fear of Mary Poppins and his delight when they gave him the kite added so much fun and lightness to the production. Mrs. Brill, played by Méami Maszewski, added much to the show as the Banks’s maid. Maszewski as Mrs. Brill established the energy of the scene, whether she was overwhelmed from Mr. Banks’s high expectations or frenzied from the children’s antics.
The scene that still sparkles in my memory is when Bert, Mary Poppins, Jane, and Michael visit the mysterious and magical Mrs. Corry’s “talking shop.” The ensemble was incredibly strong during this scene, and the song “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” was spectacular. The small movements and reactions to the action upped the energy and humor of the scene exponentially. Judith A. Ryerson’s costumes were so vibrant, creative, and fun. Mrs. Correy, played by Francesca Mintowt-Czyz, led the fun. Mrs. Correy’s voice was a delightfully quirky and silly, her enthusiasm contagious, and her interactions with the principals fresh.
In start contrast was the disappointment of the park scene. The costumes did not have the uniqueness and creativity to equal the high quality of the rest of the show. The choreography was tired and had no synergy with the song or the costumes. The “Jolly Holiday” was a little boring. The one exception to the lackluster was the park statue Neleus played by Ty Koeller. His physicality was attention-grabbing and his costuming added to the magical effect of him coming to life. The sound effects with his movements were particularly immersive.
Unfortunately, the vocal styling was confusing. Most often the songs were more operatic than Broadway and in a lot of cases, it worked well. But some characters, including LoPresti’s Mary Poppins, often switched between to the two styles, sometimes even in the same song. I far preferred LoPresti’s Broadway voice; it was velvety and comforting. Hearing her Broadway voice made me want more of it and made me less satisfied with the operatic styling. Sometimes the vocal blend between characters was jarring. I adored LoPresti’s voice in, “Feed the Birds,” but the contrast between her voice and Alissa Anderson’s voice as Bird Woman clashed. The low warbling vibrato went all over the place and marred the tranquility of that sweet song. However, Anderson’s voice and acting as Mrs. Andrews was engaging and terribly fun.
Set designer Dennis Hassan hit a home run with a set that truly deserves the word epic. In almost every scene, he used nearly every foot of visual space of that huge stage. The set had as much breadth as it did depth and attention to detail. In the delightful scene when the bumbling servant Robertson, played by Sam Lariviere, and the two children destroyed all of Mrs. Brill’s meticulous preparations, the table broke in half, the pot rack crashed, and a shelf fell down. The set flew back together again seamlessly via Mary Poppins’s magic but really via Hassan’s skill as a set designer.
Chris Wood’s light design added much to the set and mood of each scene, especially on the roof tops with the chimney sweeps. I loved the idea of using lights to bring Mary Poppin’s magic to life, but the execution, which looked like a rainbow disco-ball pointed at Poppins’s bag, didn’t match the same high-quality of the rest of the production.
Finally, there were story lines, conflicts, and music that I hadn’t experienced before in this musical that was based on P.L. Travers‘s stories and the Disney film but with the actual script by Julian Fellowes. Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman did the original music and lyrics, and George Stiles and Anthony Drewe contributed new songs and lyrics. With that many hands involved, the theme of the show could easily get muddled, but the message was clear: Mary Poppins needed to come to Cherry Tree Lane because the Banks as a family were in trouble. Mr. Banks’s relationship with his children and his wife was falling apart. George Banks, played by Brandon Hendrickson, showed some of this theme in his song, “Precision and Order,” which he vocally performed very well. Winifred Banks, played by Molly Mustonen, had a lovely and sincere voice. Her song, “Being Mrs. Banks,” tugged at the heart strings as her desire to be a good wife and the conflict she felt in trying came through clearly. And yet, the stakes didn’t feel high to me—why did this family need saving? The script told me they did, but the acting didn’t. There was something missing in the the chemistry in the Banks family, and as a result, there wasn’t much emotional payoff on that theme of the story.
Overall, I would recommend this show to anyone looking for a fun, light, visually stunning, and magical show. The set is an immersive masterpiece, the usually lighting does well to add to the magic, and the vocals, while a tad in contrast with each other, are overall pleasant. The acting has many stand out moments, with the LoPresti and Stewart rivaling Andrews and Van Dyke and with the child actors never missing a note. There is something in this production for all ages to enjoy and many moments that make you feel like a kid again.