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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