It doesn’t seem possible that there are people who don’t know the story of Mary Poppins, but for sheltered folks, our titular character is a nanny that comes to work with the Banks family, who have gone through six nannies in just a few weeks. It seems the children, Jane and Michael, have trouble with authority, especially when it is harsh and less than caring. But Mary Poppins is, to say the least, not your average nanny. And by not average, I mean we don’t know exactly what she is, but she’s definitely not a mere mortal. She has magical powers and more wisdom about raising children than someone who is actually the age she appears to be could possibly have. Besides that, almost everyone seems to know and adore her. Especially the narrator of our story, Bert the chimney sweep. It doesn’t take much time for the number of her devoted fans to swell by two: Jane and Michael.
That’s plenty about the story. Frankly, the storyline is relatively basic. Family is in trouble; outsider with special skills comes in, ostensibly to help the children; outsider ends up saving the whole family. The draw of the story is less the admittedly happy ending and more about the magical journey. And magical it is, in so many ways. From the cast to the set to the almost shockingly impressive special effects, this show is an extravaganza suitable for the entire family.
A show is always only as good as its cast, and the Guild has assembled its usual stellar group. From the ensemble, who are marble statues one minute and chimney sweeps the next, to Mary Poppins herself, the cast is strong. Natalie Bradley takes on a job that is one of the hardest—filling a role that is so completely identified with the specific actor who originated the character. Julie Andrews has the distinction of making difficult the lives of female actors who endeavor to play both Mary Poppins and also Maria von Trapp from The Sound of Music. But Ms. Bradley makes the umbrella and carpetbag her own. Mollie Smith and Quince Bozeman are equally admirable as the Banks children. Their chemistry and energy make their performances a delight to watch.
The same can be said of Danny Bayer and Morgan Stubbe as the children’s parents, George and Winifred Banks. Mr. Bayer is pitch-perfect as the seemingly stuffy patriarch of the family. And my companions and I agreed that we could easily see Ms. Stubbe being able to fill the role of Mary Poppins when she’s the appropriate age. Her voice has a lilting, earnest quality that makes her a joy to listen to.
But, in my opinion, the bravura performance of the show is turned in by Seth Fearnow as Bert, who is onstage nearly as much as the magic nanny herself. His accent is terrific, as are his singing and acting. And he even does a bang-up job in the dancing department. Not to give anything away, the chimney sweep scene is jaw-dropping.
Speaking of jaw-dropping, the special effects in the show are just that. I’m not even sure I can describe the backdrop, so I won’t even try. Just know it’s practically worth the price of admission. But the backdrop is definitely not the whole set. It would be a terrible injustice not to give a special mention to the set crew for this show. The quick, smooth set changes, which are required constantly, make the show move seamlessly. The backstage crew members for this show are magicians in their own right.
This show really does have it all. Great music, lots of laughs, beautiful voices, fantastic dancing, and special effects that on par with a Broadway show. As I said, all ages will fall in love with this show. You really need to see it. It opens Friday, November 8 at 8:00 pm, with subsequent evening performances on November 9, 15, 16, 22, 23, 29, and 30. The 2:30 pm matinee on the 10th is already sold out (as is opening night), but there are two 6:00 pm performances on the 17th and 24th. As I said, two shows are already fully booked, so don’t dawdle. Get your tickets now by going to actors-guild.com or calling the box office at 304-485-1300.