Review: Mary Poppins at MSMT

Posted Wednesday, August 14, 2013 in Culture

Review: Mary Poppins at MSMT

Mary Poppins (Lauren Blackman) and Bert (Tyler Hanes) and sweep ensemble.  Photo by Audra Hatch.

by Gina Hamilton

In the Disney movie, Mary Poppins was the Perfect Nanny.  Yes, she got around in some interesting ways, but overall, she was basically human with a heart of gold.

In the children's stories, however, she wasn't like that.  She was a quasi-magical being, a cross between a genie and an angel, and no one can say for sure what kind of angel she was ... a gentle guardian angel or a potent avenging angel?  Whichever it was, she was a woman with attitude, called to a mission of some sort that the family only dimly understood.  She always got her way.  That 'her way' was in the best interests of the children and their parents was not always clear at the time, even though things worked out in the end.

MSMT's Mary Poppins is much more like the Poppins of the P.L. Travers stories.  Played by Lauren Blackman, she is in turn vain, sweet, and domineering.  Her sidekick, Bert, the chimney sweep, is played by Tyler Hanes.

The dance numbers featuring Mary and Bert, and the rest of the sweep ensemble, are top notch, thanks to the choreography of director Marc Cameron.

In the story, the Banks family is struggling with the idea of living up to their upper-middle class existence, even though Winifred Banks (Heidi Kettenring) was an actress before marrying her husband, George (Jeff Coon), who works for a large bank.  Winifred is having trouble managing the staff, and when their nanny walks out in a huff, the children, Jane (Sophie Calderwood) and Michael (Alec Shiman), offer a list of qualities they would like to see in a nanny.  Their father rips up their list.  Shortly thereafter, Mary Poppins arrives, carrying the children's list, and they  immediately fall in love with her. 

The children's sense of empathy and good manners are gently corrected, with visits to see Mrs. Corry (Janelle Robinson) in the park, and the Bird Woman (Charis Leos), and eventually, their father's sense of empathy is also gently corrected when his children are brought to visit him at work.  He gives a loan to a worthy man who wants to establish a factory to employ people, and turns down a loan to a man who wants to speculate with the money.  For this, he is suspended from his job, and the family begins a downward spiral.

When Mary Poppins leaves, Mrs. Banks finds her husband's old nanny, Mrs. Andrews (also played by Janelle Robinson), whose virtues Mr. Banks had long sung.  However, the reality of her presence reminds him of how horrible his childhood was, and Mary Poppins returns, doing battle with the evil Mrs. Andrews, and ultimately, dispatching her.

George, convinced he is going to be fired, sinks into a deep depression, from which his wife struggles to help him emerge.  However, it is not until he is ready to go back to the bank to face the music, and the children give him the sixpence that the factory owner at the bank had given them, that Mr. Banks develops some courage.

Mrs. Banks, the children, and Mary Poppins follow him to plead his case, but by the time they arrive, the bank manager (David Girolmo) has already given George the good news that far from being fired, he has saved the bank a fortune and they are offering him a better job with a raise.  Winifred negotiates for a better job, which George accepts, as long as they understand that his family will come first.  As George is flying a kite with his children in the park, Mary Poppins takes her final adieu.

The sets steal the show in Mary Poppins.  The main household set has the feel of a large dollhouse, and the sets turn so that the exterior is visible, the interior is visible, the children's room upstairs is visible, and the park is visible.  It is a complex piece of engineering, and worth the price of admission alone. 

The choreography is the other amazing piece to this show.  The tap numbers are not to be missed. 

MSMT will be running Mary Poppins through August 24.  For ticket information, visit www.msmt.org

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