Chicago Theatre Review
Practically Perfect in Every Way
Mary Poppins – Paramount Arts Center
In 1934 P. L. Travers’ first literary success, which eventually spawned a series of sequels, soon became a favorite among both children and their parents. Thirty years later Ms. Travers reluctantly granted Walt Disney the rights for transforming her children’s novel into a much-loved film. In 2001 Disney Theatricals began the long process of turning their beloved movie into a live stage musical. They solicited Julian Fellowes, the author of PBS’ “Downton Abbey,” to create the script for a stage version that would meld the darkness of the books with the sunny attitude of the movie. They also brought back the Sherman brothers (whose delightful score added so much to the original film), along with new composer/lyricists George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, to fully musicalize the piece. Famed English director Richard Eyre and co-director/choreographer Matthew Bourne were brought in to bring the new musical to life, whereupon “Mary Poppins” opened in 2004, after several regional tryouts, in London’s West End. Upon receiving two Olivier Awards, the show transferred to Broadway in 2006 and, two Tony Awards later, began a very successful National Tour.
The musical has now become a favorite with regional theatres around the world and Paramount Theatre, a venue that continues to amaze Chicago audiences with its sumptuous Broadway caliber productions, surpasses every expectation with Rachel Rockwell’s exquisite new production. This show, which features a gorgeous, intensely-hued set created by the talented Kevin Depinet, with magical moving projections by designer extraordinaire, Mike Tutaj, is absolutely eye-popping. Theresa Ham’s gorgeous Edwardian costumes embellish the actors and Greg Hofmann’s atmospheric lighting brings it altogether. Superb musical direction comes courtesy of talented Tom Vendafreddo, who also conducts the show’s brilliant, 17-member orchestra, making the entire score soar. Ms. Rockwell’s emotional connection to this show is palpable and she keeps her actors swiftly moving from scene to scene. Rachel Rockwell’s talent as a choreographer is put to the test here, transforming all 28 of her actors into true Music Hall hoofers. But it’s the heart and love this director instills in her production that radiates the most through this cast.
Emily Rohm, one of Chicago’s finest actor/singers, was simply made for this role. She doesn’t just play Mary Poppins; she IS Mary Poppins, the stern, but kindly nanny with the hidden smile, who knows well that a certain amount of discipline, along with a spoonful of sugar, really does help the medicine go down. Whether teaching young Jane and Michael Banks how to appreciate the world beyond what they see or helping Mr. and Mrs. Banks understand how to become better parents, Ms. Rohm is terrific. She not only sings like a uncaged songbird but dances and flies like one, too! She’s matched step-for-step, note-for-note by Matt Crowle’s sensational Bert. Mr. Crowle’s “Chim Chim Cher-ee” touches the heart, his aerial ballet during “Step in Time” thrills, and his charming production number with Ms. Rohm and the entire company, “Jolly Holiday” is unforgettable. These two actors create a magical duo that area audiences will not soon forget. Like Ms. Rohm, Mr. Crowle was born to play this part.
Beautiful Cory Goodrich and the sensational Michael Aaron Lindner play two busy adults, trying to simply balance their daily responsibilities while keeping a nanny to raise their two spirited children. They seamlessly journey into caring, loving parents who value and love each other, and discover they no longer need the services of a nanny. That both talented actors happen to also be some of Chicago’s most accomplished musical talents is the icing on the cake. Marilyn Bogetich is impressive and heartbreaking as the street woman who “Feeds the Birds,” and then returns as the tyrannical, Wagnerian Miss Andrew to strike terror in everyone. Glory Kissel and Carl Draper are funny and caring as the two bumbling domestics, Mrs. Brill and Roberson Ay. Eloise Lushina, Peyton Shaffer, Charlie Babbo and Jake Helm are equally excellent displaying their musical and dramatic talents “up to the highest heights,” as they share the roles of young Jane and Michael Banks.
This is the regional production of Disney’s beloved classic that Chicagoland has been waiting to see. It equals, perhaps even surpasses, the touring production that visited here not too long ago. Rachel Rockwell has created a spectacular, magical, musical production filled with so much heart and local talent, both on and off the stage. Besides being a highly entertaining spectacle for the family, “that Poppins woman” offers a special reminder of some very important life lessons, as well. Paramount has outdone itself, mounting one stunning, “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” Christmas stocking stuffed to the brim with joy and love.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented November 26-January 4 at the Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora, IL.
Tickets are available in person at the Paramount box office, by calling 630-896-6666 or by going to www.ParamountAurora.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.