WASHINGTON TERRACE — Adapting any film to the stage is never an easy task, and the difficulty is heightened when transitioning one of the most beloved films of all time, Mary Poppins. Yet this was what the team behind the 2006 Broadway staging of Mary Poppins had to accomplish and ended up with mixed results. However, the team at Beverly’s Terrace Plaza Playhouse have taken that mixed bag and made as entertaining a production as they could. Full of cheerful performances and energetic choreography, they have even elevated the show to greatness in parts.
I won’t get too bogged down in the problems I have with the stage musical’s book written by Julian Fellowes, which combines elements from the original P. L. Travers novels with the 1964 Disney film. This was a mistake, as the two are quite different especially in their tones and portrayal of Mary and Mr. Banks. In the film, Mr. Banks is a man with a philosophy for life. In this musical, Mr. Banks is instead portrayed as a businessman with PTSD over the treatment from his nanny Miss Andrew as a child. This is far less interesting than the character’s motivations in the movie. Mary Poppins is presented as a comparison to Miss Andrews, which is not insightful or interesting for her character. In fact, it makes Mary seem cold and unkind when she leaves Jane and Michael with this megalomaniac of a nanny. There is also the change in Mrs. Banks a suffragette in the film to a reluctant lady of leisure in the stage version, which seems like a downgrade.
As with the case with most of the Disney adaptations, the new songs in Mary Poppins (new music by George Stiles, with lyrics by Anthony Drewe) pale in comparison to the original songs by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman. Probably the best new song comes towards the end with “Anything Can Happen,” sung by Mary, Jane, Michael and Winifred. The returning songs like “A Spoonful of Sugar” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” are, of course, enchanting.
The casting in this production of Mary Poppins is the biggest reason why the show still works, despite the material they are given. Annie Ferrin is energetic and vivacious as Mary, and in a fun touch she gets to work with her daughter Aria in the ensemble. One of my favorite sequences from the show comes early on with nearly the full cast on stage dancing and singing ”Jolly Holiday,” and this has Mary changing into her white dress with red belt, white hat and parasol. I also really enjoyed the “Step in Time’ number that makes good use of the large cast and thrust stage to surround the audience in song and dance.
Josh Curtis is lovely as Bert, although I was disappointed director Kate Rufener did not give him more to do. For many scenes, he merely standing around watching things happen, and even in “Chim Chim Cher-ee” the choreography is minimal. Jon Talbot and Karlie Ady have a nice chemistry together as Mr. and Mrs. Banks, respectively, and the two performers are excellent in the roles. Daphne Dixon and Beckett Ronnow as Michael and Jane Banks hold their own with any of the adult actors, who undoubtedly have more experience. Ginny Waldron tries to ham it up as Miss Andrew, bringing some much needed personality to her “Bristone and Treacle.”
Choreographer Megan Call finds ways to fill the entire stage and even into the aisles with dance and movement. Rufener adds a gentle touch to the proceedings. For example, in “Feed the Birds,” I liked how the bird lady was not just one person, but a trio of women who all have different colors of hair. Costume designers Emily Dickerson and Kinsie Behr created a perfect duplication of Mary’s iconic looks, while adding their own flare, such as putting an LED light strings in with her final costume. The wigs, hats, and hairpieces, designed by Jamila Lowe, are also very strong by Jamila Lowe. There is also some inventive lighting (designed by Miland Palmer and Mark Ellis) and use of props (uncredited in the program) that help make sequences like “Step in Time” and “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” come alive.
In the end, I don’t love this adaptation of Mary Poppins but I do love what the cast and crew at Terrace Plaza Playhouse has done with it. The show is loaded with community spirit and bubbly energy that is impossible to deny. Anyone in the Ogden are should find their way to the theater and see Mary Poppins with the entire family. They will love it, flaws and all.