Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Mary Poppins

With just "A Spoonful of Sugar" Mary Poppins (Jori Gonzales)
can make even an unpleasant task a treat for Jane (Marley Michel)
and Michael (D.J. Michel) Banks in the Woodland Opera House production
of "Mary Poppins."  Courtesy Photo
“Prac-ti-cally perfect” is what Mary Poppins might have called the Woodland Opera House production of the Disney and Cameron Mackintosh version of “Mary Poppins.”

The show starts with the wonderful set by Mark and Christine Deamer. Things come down from the top, up from the bottom and slide in from side to side, thanks to the efficient and unobtrusive set crew.

Costumes by Denise Miles are either subdued period costumes or over-the-top fantasy costumes in a rainbow of bright colors for numbers like “Supercalafragilisticexpealidocious.”

Director Angela Baltezore is also the show’s choreographer and the dances are such fun, in addition to the aforementioned “Supercalafragilisticexpealidocious” with its ridiculously complicated hand, foot and arm movements, to the chimney sweeps’ tap dance, “Step in Time” which brings down the house and gives a much deserved and earned encore.

And then there is the cast. Jori Gonzales is more than practically perfect as Mary Poppins. From the moment she floats into the Banks household we take her into our hearts and believe in her magic.

F. James Raasch, in his first Woodland Opera House production, is the consummate Bert, the chimney sweep who has a special relationship we never quite understand with Mary. The man sings beautifully, dances wonderfully and is a magnetic force on stage. (My only complaint is that for someone who works in soot and ashes, his costume is entirely too pristine.)

Jeremy and Tamalisa Carlson make it a real family affair as George and Winifred Banks (their real-life children Kathryn and Brenden are members of the ensemble as Fannie and Danny). Jeremy, as George makes the transition from staid, stuffy banker to caring, carefree father beautifully, while Tamalisa holds the family together with her love for her husband and her children, though in “Being Mrs. Banks” lets us know the price she pays trying to balance her duties as a society wife and loving mother.

Real-life brother and sister Marley and D.J. Michel play the Banks children, Jane and Michael. (8-year-old D.J. was just nominated for an Elly award for his performance as Charlie in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”). These kids are amazing, considering that they are in nearly every scene and act, sing and dance beautifully.

Longtime area favorite, Lenore Sebastian is a veritable gorgon as Miss Andrew, George Banks’ old nanny (“the old horror”). Almost unrecognizable behind the fabulous makeup, there’s no mistaking that forceful voice as she belts out “Brimstone and Treacle.” Even members of the audience may shrink in fear.

Likewise, seven-time Chesley Award winner Nancy Agee delivers on my personal favorite, “Feed the Birds.” as the street woman, sitting on the courthouse steps selling her bags of bird seed for “Tuppence a bag.”

Particular mention goes to J. Hunter LaMar as Neleus, the statue that comes to life. He holds his pose for a very long time and then gives full rein to his dance, both solo and with the other Hyde Park statues. My only comment on this character is — can someone please do something about that unsightly material bunching in an inconvenient place as Neleus stands facing away from the audience?

There is an eight-piece orchestra, which plays beautifully, but in venues like the Opera House, with no orchestra pit, the music seems to always be competing with the voices on stage. In particular, when sitting closer to the orchestra (we were in row B), the music under the spoken dialog almost always drowned out what was being said. This kind of battle has been waged in community theater houses for decades and there is no real solution, but it deserves mentioning again.

I don’t know if “Mary Poppins” is the most ambitious production Woodland has ever presented, but if not, it certainly must be near the top. It’s a huge production, but done practically perfectly.

No comments: