IVINS — Based on the famous film from 1964 and the books by P. L. Travers, the stage musical version of Mary Poppins opened in London in 2004 and transferred to Broadway in 2006, where it ran for several years. With music by Richard M. Sherman, Robert B. Sherman, and George Stiles, lyrics by the Sherman Brothers and Anthony Drewe, and a book by Julian Fellowes, the story merges parts of the beloved film and the original novel to bring together a newer telling of everyone’s favorite flying nanny. With the title character played at Tuacahn in Ivins this summer by Gail Bennett, Mary Poppins comes to the Banks family in their time of need.
Directed by Peggy Hickey, Tuacahn has assembled a production that is full of spectacle that the company’s audiences expect when seeing a musical in the amphitheater’s majestic outdoor setting. The set, lighting, and projection design all worked together to transport the audience to the streets of nineteenth-century London. Scenic/lighting designer Paul Black and projection designer Brad Peterson did exquisite work in the visual design of this show. However, the technical elements of the show proved to be the surprising frustrations as well, with a few glitches in the projection system and trouble with the microphones throughout the evening, something that I have not witnessed before in my years of reviewing at Tuacahn. Sound design by Josh Liebert was generally phenomenal, which made the moments when a microphone was off jarring. And the moments when a screen was not in full projection distracting from the rest of the visual masterpiece.
Costume design by Ryan Moller was also a treat, with some of the iconic outfits one expects to see in Mary Poppins mixed in with new and imaginative interpretations for the stage rendition. Thanks to Moller’s work, a favorite was the scene with the song “Jolly Holiday With Mary.” The scene needed significant changes from the film (which is a mostly-animated sequence), and the version on stage benefited from colorful costumes, a fantastic ensemble, energetic choreography by Mara Newberry Greer, and great music direction by Bryson Baumgartel. What was even more entertaining was the great fun of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” which had some of the most creative choreography of the evening, coupled with utterly fascinating projection design.
The actors in Mary Poppins were well cast, with characters ranging from the young moppets Jane (played by Lilly Pearson) and Michael (played by Charlie Stover), to Mrs. Banks (played by Kelley Dorney), a character much more fleshed out in this version of the script. Thanks to the performers, it is easy to care about the fate of these characters. This is especially of Bennett, who really is practically perfect in every way as Mary Poppins. The actors all interacted well with each other, and I could easily believe each of their emotions, from frustration to joy and beyond. Neil Starkenberg had the daunting task of taking on the beloved role of Burt, a task in which he shined, and the whole cast had a particularly stellar moment during “Step in Time,” where they reminded me that great tap dancing is highly entertaining.
The script has an additional character in this story of Mrs. Andrews, a former nanny of Mr. Banks, played by Lexie Dorset Sharp. While Sharp as an actress was fine in the role, the additional storyline was cumbersome and felt like an afterthought. The two nannies have a song (a reprise of “Brimstone and Treacle”) where they go head-to-head and toe-to-toe. And while the song is fun, the resolution is quick and strange and not at all like the magic of the rest of the show. Both actresses handle the material with grace and skill, the actual scene took away from the flow of the production truthfully removed me from the story for a while.
The magic of Mary Poppins is palpable, especially as kites and Mary Poppins herself flies through the air in the warm southern Utah evening. Tuacahn’s production of this family favorite is a wonderful way to get reacquainted with this beloved story of family and personal growth.