Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Set in 1900s London, Travers' series of young children's books were turned into the classic 1964 Walt Disney film Mary Poppins, which was then expanded into a big family friendly stage musical. The musical follows the adventures of Mary Poppins who visits the Banks family in London and, with her magical ways, improves their family dynamics. The musical uses most of the Sherman brothers song score from the Disney film, plus adds some new songs by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. While there are one or two new songs that don't quite match the simple brilliance of the movie hits "Chim Chim Cher-ee," "A Spoonful of Sugar" and "Feed the Birds," several are quite good, including "Practically Perfect" and "Anything Can Happen." The book by Julian Fellowes (of "Downton Abbey" fame) combines elements from both the film and the book series and manages to get across the sense of imagination that Mary encourages, something easy to do on film or in a book, but not always so easy to portray on stage.
Hale's cast is as "practically perfect" as Mary Poppins herself. Annalise Belnap Webb strongly exhibits Mary's strictness and sternness but allows Mary's well-meaning ways to come through as clear as Webb's exceptional voice. Webb excels on her many songs with a rich, powerful delivery combined with crisp and perfect diction and warm, buttery tones. Rob Stuart is superb as George Banks, with a touching portrayal of George's change from a stubborn, selfish man to one who understands the importance of family. Laura Anne Kenney is just as good as George's wife Winnifred, displaying a powerful strength underneath the self-reliant woman. As Mary's friend Bert, Tedd Glazebrook brings a sense of joy and wonder to the production.
Josh Mortensen and Isabelle Jensen are not only completely adorable as the Banks' children, but also both exceptional actors able to deliver some of the funniest lines in the show and the dramatic ones as well. Kinsey Peotter and Allan DeWitt are very funny as the Banks' frustrated housekeeping staff with Peotter doing triple duty not only delivering a sweet and moving "Feed the Birds" but also singing the rousing "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" with Webb and the whole cast. Carrie Klofach makes the most of the evil nanny Miss Andrew, and Jesse Thomas Foster is quite touching as a man who asks George for a loan from the bank where he works.
Director Cambrian James lets the fun parts of the storyline share equal billing with the sentimental ones, which allows the impact of Mary's involvement with the Banks family to not seem too forced, but more natural. James' choreography brings plenty of varied movement, including tap and a bit of a waltz, and stages the action effectively throughout the theatre space. The creative elements are up to Hale's usual excellent standards, with Jeff A. Davis' lighting bringing a bit of mystery and intrigue with dark, shadowy tones in a few scenes, and beautiful costumes that are full of color and detail from Mary Atkinson. However, while the few set pieces used help establish the main locations of the showthe Banks' house, the park and the bankHale's theatre-in-the-round causes a lack of major set pieces or drops, which is a bit of a detriment in that it doesn't allow for the many colorful locations of the show to be fully displayed. Also, the character of Mary Poppins is known to fly in and out of the story, yet with no fly space above the Hale stage it means that Mary's flying ability and Bert's upside down tapping in "Step in Time" cannot be shown. However, none of this detracts from the emotional story at the core of the show.
With a strong cast that collectively delivers a powerful and emotional meaning to the important lesson about spending time with your family, Hale's production of Mary Poppins is an exuberant, lively musical with fun songs and memorable characters that all family members can enjoy together.
The Hale Centre Theatre production of Mary Poppins runs through November 28th, 2015, with performances at 50 W. Page Avenue in Gilbert. Tickets can be ordered at www.haletheatrearizona.com or by calling (480) 497-1181
Based on the books by P. L. Travers
Directed and Choreographed by Cambrian James