‘Mary Poppins’ is ‘Practically Perfect’

Madeline Trumble as Mary and Con O'Shea-Creal as Bert in the musical 'Mary Poppins.'
Madeline Trumble as Mary and Con O'Shea-Creal as Bert in the musical 'Mary Poppins.'

Mary Poppins is must-see musical magic on stage through Sunday as part of the Stranahan Theater’s Broadway Series.

Madeline Trumble’s Poppins is stern with a smile. The live-in nanny teaches life lessons through song, with magic, and by a wave of her gloved hand to a struggling London family.

Jane and Michael Banks (Alexa Shae Niziak and Lucas Schultz for Tuesday’s performance) capture the essence of the unruly yet lovable children who misbehave to get the attention of their self-controlled and distant father, George Banks (Chris K. Hoch).

Poppins’ longtime friend Bert (Con O’Shea-Creal) has a few tricks of his own and a great voice. Trumble said in a previous interview she loved working with O’Shea-Creal. The chemistry is evident between them when they sing “Chim Chim Cher-ee” atop a roof. His overall carefree, happy-go-lucky demeanor is enviable.

There’s a feeling “what’s to happen all happened before” Bert said in Act I and this sentiment could be echoed by theatergoers. This adaptation is a co-production of Disney and Cameron Mackintosh that maintains the storyline from the 1964 classic film starring Julie Andrews and Dick van Dyke, but it’s not an exact replica. It more closely follows the P.L. Travers series.

Winifred Banks (Kerry Conte), a former actress, is submissive to her husband and questions her role in “Being Mrs. Banks,” one of the songs composed for the musical. Other new songs include “Precision and Order,” “Anything Can Happen,” and “Practically Perfect.” Some familiar film songs have lyric changes including “Chim Chim Cher-ee” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”

This tale of a nanny healing a hurting family has grossed more than $644 million. It opened on Broadway in 2006 and is scheduled to close Sunday after more than 2,600 performances. Troupes are performing on three continents.

Much of the musical’s delight is in letting yourself reach back and grab that childlike wonder and, of course, the magic. Poppins flies, slides up a banister, and makes park statues dance. She also brings toys to life, which is a little unsettling. The life-size toys have no qualms telling Jane and Michael they don’t like the way they’re being treated.

The Bob Crowley sets are spectacular; the show is huge. It takes nine semi-trucks to haul all the equipment. The Banks house opens like pages from a children’s book. Awes were heard as an ordinary park turned into a three-dimensional flower fanfare of vibrant fuchsia, greens, and yellows.

The “Step In Time” tap routine is a delight. The pinnacle is Bert walking up the wall to dance upside down at a staggering height. A wink of an eye, a smile on his face, and up he goes. Second to that routine is the highly energetic and entertaining “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”

Elizabeth Ann Berg as the Bird Woman in Tuesday’s performance gave an emotional rendition of “Feed the Birds;” one of the best vocal performances of the night. She also played Miss Andrew. The audience exploded with applause when she took her bow at curtain call.

At 2 hours and 45 minutes the show seems a little long, but it would be difficult to streamline the Julian Fellowes script.

Opening night earned a standing ovation from the near-capacity house. The rest of the performances are sold out. To borrow one of Poppins’ favorite phrases, the show was “practically perfect.”

Contact Julie Njaim at: jnjaim@theblade.com