Like its title character, Musical Theatre West’s Mary Poppins is practically perfect in every way, from transporting sets to lively performances. If you are a fan of the 1964 Disney film Mary Poppins (and who isn’t?), you’ll be pleased that this production, ably directed by Daniel Pelzig, follows the essential storyline. But it also offers much more. Imaginative new scenes, songs, choreography and characters with a bit more depth (especially Mr. and Mrs. Banks) elevate this high-energy production.
Nanny Mary Poppins, played by Katharine McDonough, is just as she should be– confidently upright, sharp-witted, but still caring and pretty, and with an excellent singing voice. Complementing her and infusing the whole production with his infectious energy is Robert Pieranunzi as Bert. Olivia Knox and Travis Burnett-Doering are impressive as the young Banks children, Jane and Michael. And the Banks’s themselves– Winifred and George– are excellently portrayed by Amanda Leigh Jerry and the assured Martin Kildare.
This production also offers more sympathetic character development for the Bankses, who are more satisfyingly personable than in the film. Mr. Banks’s imperious aloofness is given a backstory, mostly involving a wicked witch of a nanny named Miss Andrew (Janna Cardia). And Mrs. Banks is not a distracted suffragette but rather a former actress whose poignant situation is expressed in a new song, “Being Mrs. Banks.”
Other new songs, especially “Anything Can Happen,” lend additional meaning to the story. A few new scenes also add interest. “A Spoonful of Sugar” is sung in a kitchen turned topsy-turvy, and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” is performed in a delightful Shop of Conversations hidden in the park. The colorful look and fun choreography of that ensemble scene in particular may reflect the influence of inventive choreographer Matthew Bourne, who co-directed the original London and Broadway productions.
But all is not new. “Feed the Birds,” sung by Debra Cardona as the Bird Woman, still offers its emotional weight and lesson for the children, and “Chim Chim Cher-ee” and “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” still enchant in the same ways as the film. Hearing them sung on stage with a live orchestra, though, is definitely more impactful.
Elaborate sets depicting the parlor, nursery, kitchen, bank, park and rooftop are cleverly rotated. The night scenes, complete with stars, are especially magical, as are any scenes with Poppins flying through the air and Bert literally dancing on walls.
Additional characters such as Mrs. Brill (Cynthia Ferrer) and Robertson Ay (Jonathan Murrietta), who both work in the Banks home, and the whole energetic 14-member ensemble cast, add to the amusing spectacle.
If you love the film, you’ll enjoy experiencing this production of Mary Poppins for an exciting, inspiring, slightly updated and thoroughly entertaining take on its essential story. You may leave with “Step in Time” stuck in your head and a renewed feeling of family and dreams come true sown in your heart.
Musical Theatre West’s Mary Poppins continues at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center, 6200 E. Atherton St., through July 23, with performances Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2pm & 8pm, and Sundays at 1pm & 6pm. Tickets are $22 to $137. For tickets and information, call the box office at (562) 856-1999 x4 or visit musical.org.