by Clark Groome
Confession: I was skeptical. “Mary Poppins,” a practically perfect movie in every way, was adapted for the stage. Surely it can’t possibly be anything but a Disneyfied moneymaker.
I took that skepticism with me to the Walnut Street Theatre, where “Mary Poppins” is being staged through Jan. 4. After fewer than 30 seconds, I was convinced: the stage “Mary Poppins” is terrific theater. It should do for some of the kids in the audience what “Peter Pan,” another stage musical with a flying principal, did for me more than 60 years ago: start a lifelong love affair with the musical theater.
The story of the Banks family’s need for a nanny who can control their difficult children while father is preoccupied by work and cold with his family is told in the Walnut’s nifty production. Directed by Wayne Bryan, the show features J Branson’s colorful sets, George T. Mitchell’s imaginative costumes, Paul Black’s subtle lighting, Ed Chapman’s sound and Linda Goodrich’s hot choreography.
Musically, the stage “Mary Poppins” has added about a half-dozen new songs while all the movie favorites — “Chim Chim Chiree,” “A Spoonful of Sugar,” “Step in Time,” “Feed the Birds” and, of course, “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” — are there. Together George Stiles and Anthony Drewe’s new songs fit well with Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman’s originals.
Lindsey Bliven’s Mary Poppins and especially David Elder’s Bert go a long way to help us forget the magnificent Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke’s performances in the movie. Bliven’s Mary is physically and vocally strong. She doesn’t, however, really dominate when she’s on stage. Elder, on the other hand, is so talented and energetic that it’s hard to take your eyes off him, even when he’s in the background.
The other principals are also impressive. Jeffrey Coon’s George Banks shows once again why he is such a popular and successful local performer. His talent seems to deepen with each new role. Rebecca Robbins is just right as George’s long-suffering wife, Winifred. Mary Martello plays their housekeeper, Mrs. Brill, with the perfect combination of exasperation and determination.
The kids’ roles are double-cast. I saw Grace Matwijec’s Jane and Nicky Torchia’s Michael. Both were fine. The ensemble has a lot to do. They do it all very well. I particularly enjoyed their big dance numbers. Both “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and “Step in Time” got well-deserved standing ovations from the audience at the show I attended.
“Mary Poppins” has made the trip from the big screen to the stage in very good shape.
Contact 1-800-628-1403 or www.walnutstreettheatre.org/visit/box-office.php for ticket information to “Mary Poppins.”