Musical Theatre

We’d Better Keep an Eye on This One, She’s Tricky…

In an outburst of song, dance, and color, Center Theater Group, Disney, and Cameron Mackintosh present a rare touring production with electric showmanship, mesmerizing production design, and powerhouse orchestration.

On a faint wind of nostalgia, “Mary Poppins” floated into the Ahmanson Theatre with her magic carpetbag of endless marvel.  The excitement was palpable as audience members, old and young (even if it was just at heart), awaited a promise that anything really can happen. No one could disagree that “Mary Poppins’” timing was, for lack of a better phrase, “practically perfect in every way”.

Based on the stories of P.L. Travers and the 1964 Walt Disney Film, the performance features  original Academy Award winning music and lyrics by Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman as well as new music by Olivier Award winning team George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. Director Richard Eyre and Co-Director/Choreographer Matthew Bourne (he of the famed all-male Swan Lake production in London) introduce a kaleidoscope of whimsy that ranges from the over-the-top (a nanny who flies out over the audience and into the rafters with her magical umbrella, then returns to center stage, landing primly atop a chimney) to the old-fashioned (a simple magic trick involving a bouquet that appears out of thin air and a cheeky, knowing smile).

The production opens upon the set of the Banks family household where we find Mr. and Mrs. George and Winifred Banks and their two children, Jane and Michael in the midst of their daily navigation through marital issues and family dilemmas. Kezler is appropriately gruff as a regimented banker, who later finds his compassion at home after his career takes a turn for the worse; Grey and Thomas are the epitome of textbook battiness and childhood curiosity, while Osterhaus is heartwarming as the empathetic mother holding her family together.

The carnival heaves into view with the first act’s “Jolly Holiday”, where the Banks children follow new nanny Mary Poppins (played by Ashley Brown) and an animated jack-of-all-trades named Bert into sidewalk paintings, through pastel gardens, and over rooftops of tap dancing chimney sweeps. Brown plays Mary with the perfect air of self-assurance, and Gavin Lee masterfully harnesses comedic horseplay in his spot-on rendition of Bert. Valerie Boyle’s performance as Mrs. Brill, the Banks’ overly burdened household maid, is wildly entertaining and a definite highlight of the production, and Ellen Harvey as Mr. Banks’ former nanny, the “holy terror” Miss. Andrew, nearly steals the whole show with her operatic performance of “Brimstone and Treacle”.  While each musical act is guaranteed to delight, the second act’s “Step In Time” delivers some serious razzle-dazzle with melodic tap dancing and a jaw-dropping re-creation of Fred Astaire’s gravity-defying “walking-on-the-ceiling” act.

With noteworthy talent (on and off the stage), a little Disney magic, and a pleasantly tolerable amount of cheese, “Mary Poppins” proves to be an all around crowd pleaser and a must-see. If you aren’t already on your feet after the 78th repetition of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” then you certainly will be by curtain call.

- By Harper Flood

“Mary Poppins” will run through February 7, 2010 at the Ahmanson Theatre.  For more information, please call (213) 628-2772 or click here.

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Alan Cumming: Take Your Pick

Between Anniversary Party, Emma, Spice World, or Eyes Wide Shut… which is your favorite Alan Cumming movie?  At any given time in nearly any movie, Alan Cumming is bound to pop up as a hotel clerk, a cab driver, or a love interest without warning; the Scotsman fits in just about any role.  He’s dynamic on stage, on film, and now as a one-man cabaret act.

On for a brief run at the Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater, Cumming’s “I Bought A Blue Car Today” arrives in Los Angeles fresh from performances at the Sydney Opera House, Lincoln Center, and London’s Vaudeville Theatre.  The show combines witty stories with spectacular musical numbers in which live musicians join him on stage.  One could ask, who knew Alan Cumming was such an accomplished singer?  The answer is only that you, silly, haven’t been paying close enough attention to his career.  This is to be expected!

When Cumming was trying to become a US citizen, one requirement was that he could show his ability to write the following sentence: “I bought a blue car today.”  From that, you can be sure, the stories and songs throughout his cabaret act will focus on the hilarity that has ensued during his time in the US.  Within the intimate confines of the Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater, you’ll feel like you’re getting a closer look at Mr. Cumming in his most natural setting.  But you never know what will come next – you may find him trying his hand as a puppeteer, a ringmaster, or lion tamer.  If he considers life to be a cabaret now, next year it will be a circus!

Alan Cumming’s “I Bought A Blue Car Today” runs from September 29 through October 4 at the Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater at the Geffen Playhouse.  For more information, please click here.

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All’s Fair in Love, War, and Hollywood Bowl Parking

This weekend at the Hollywood Bowl, luck’s not necessarily a lady; it’s a parking spot.  I’m no gambler, but I’d be willing to bet that if you show up later than 6:00 PM on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday (even though showtime’s not until 8:30 PM and 7:30 PM on Sunday) to see the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra’s rendition of Frank Losesser’s classic Guys and Dolls, there won’t be a spot for miles.

From conductor Kevin Sites and director Richard Jay Alexander, the same dapper gents who sent the songs of Les Miserables soaring into the hills last summer—and with the help of Tony-award winning choreographer Donna McKechnie—Guys and Dolls promises to be a star-studded event.  Jessica Biel assumes the role of the innocent missionary Sarah Brown, Scott Bakula shoots for Nathan Detroit, Brian Stokes Mitchell—living up to his nickname as Broadway’s “last-leading man”—plays Sky Masterson, and as Arvide Abernathy, the always lovable yet consistently overlooked Beau Bridges.  Oh, and don’t forget Brando and Sinatra, whose ghosts are sure to be hovering in the mist, shooting craps and snapping along to all the loveable numbers they once called their own. 

Needless to say, this weekend might be the time to try out that old LA public transportation system.  Or who knows?  Luck might be on your side.

The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra’s production of Guys and Dollsopens its curtains at 8:30 PM on Friday, July 31st and Saturday, August 1st, then at 7:30 PM on Sunday, August 2nd.  Please call (323) 850-2000 or click here for more information. 

Posted in Bring Your Flask, Music, Musical Theatre, Theatre No Comments »