Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Also see Rob's review of The Last Five Years
There's not much need to go into the story about the nanny with magical powers, but the stage musical is a little different from the movie. There's more emphasis on the father Mr. Banks and his journey from uptight rigidity to becoming a true family man, which is in keeping with P. L. Travers' intent, at least according to the recent Emma Thompson-Tom Hanks movie Saving Mr. Banks. Some scenes with his childhood nanny, the martinet Miss Andrew, have been created for the musical, to help account for his personality. There are a few other changes, but all the familiar Sherman Brothers songs are still here (plus some new songs, by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, added to the stage version), and it's hard to hold yourself back from singing along.
ALT's executive and Artistic Director Henry Avery directs this show, and his many years of experience in theaters on Broadway have yielded a terrific show. The main strength is the cast. Sharee Gariety as Mary Poppins is totally professional in everything except Equity membership. She is more than "practically perfect in every way" (that's the title of one of the added songs) for this role. Ryan Shepherd, our Bert the chimney sweep, was in fact a professional on Broadway and on national tours, and it's always great to see him devote some of his many talents to the Albuquerque theater community.
Emily Melville is a fine actress with a lovely voice and is an excellent Mrs. Banks. Art Tedesco acts well as Mr. Banks, but his voice leaves a little to be desired; he doesn't have much to sing, though, so it's not a problem. Courtney Awe is appropriately wicked-witchy as Miss Andrew and over the top as Mrs. Corry. Dallin Gariety as the houseboy Robertson Ay (a character from the books but not the movie) looks to have a bright future on stage if he chooses to pursue it. Everyone in the smaller roles and ensemble does excellent work, with a standout voice being that of Christine Smith as the Bird Lady.
The real stars of the show, though, are not Mary Poppins and Bert but the two children, Jane and Michael Banks. They are in just about every scene, and Lucy Shepherd and Hayden Gariety are terrific. Both of these youngsters have apparently inherited the theater gene, and they're both naturals for the stage. Hayden, especially, owns the stage whenever he is on it..
The music is recorded, but music director Shelly Andes has done a great job with the singers. Peter Bennett has choreographed energetically, and this is some of the best dancing I've seen at ALT. The show requires many scene changes, and the set design by Glenn Pepe works well, with a group of nine unheralded stagehands who deserve a big hand themselves. The flying umbrella needed a little push on opening night, but that made it all the more charming. The costumes by Joe Moncada and Sharon Welz are numerous and excellent. Lighting by Ryan Jason Cook is likewise fine, and somehow Brian Clifton as the stage manager coordinates a cast of 28 and all the backstage maneuvering.
I saw Mary Poppins on its national tour a few years ago and was not that impressed with it, but this production I found totally enchanting, as it should be.
Mary Poppins at Albuquerque Little Theatre, 224 San Pasquale SW in Albuquerque through June 18, 2017. Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 2:00, Saturday June 3 at 2:00 and Thursday June 8 at 7:30. Info at www.albuquerquelittletheatre.com or 505-242-4750.