Chicago Theatre Review
Practically Perfect in Every Way
Mary Poppins – Mercury Theatre
Postpone your sugar-free diet. Disney’s joyfully captivating, colorful and vibrant theatrical confectionery is a real “Spoonful of Sugar” that has once again blown into town on the East Wind to thrill Chicago family audiences. Mercury Theatre’s production stars Nicole Armold as the supernatural nanny of 17 Cherry Tree Lane. She’s truly wonderful, not only in her accomplished vocals and dancing, but in her very funny, almost melodramatic characterization. The always magnificent, Jeff Award-winning Matt Crowle, who delighted audiences as Leo Bloom in Mercury’s “The Producers,” is the show’s narrator. At times, he’s also a chimney sweep, a sidewalk artist and a jack-of-all-trades. Mr. Crowle and Ms. Armold, who share a special, British chemistry together, capably lead a very talented cast who are “Practically Perfect” in every way.
Jane and Michael Banks, the two precocious children who are the focal point of this story, were beautifully portrayed opening night by Sage Harper and Casey Lyons, while Pearle Bramlett and Conor McGarry share the roles at alternate performances. This production never once plays down to the abilities of these child actors. They’re all accomplished triple threats and as competent as any of the adult actors on that stage.
Lovely Holly Stauder is superb as the villainous nanny, Miss Andrew, spewing forth her venom in “Brimstone and Treacle.” Conversely, she also plays the sweet, lovable Bird Lady, who lingers on the steps of St. Paul’s, singing “Feed the Birds,” and urging passersby to purchase food for her winged friends. Multitalented Leah Morrow takes on several roles, but she’s especially excellent as Mrs. Corry, the proprietor of the “talk shop,” where she sells conversation, words and letters. Erin Parker and Timothy Eidman pair up as humorous heads of the Banks’ household staff, Mrs. Brill and Robertson Ay. And Cory Goodrich and Kevin McKillip are most affecting as Winifred and George Banks, the children’s proper British parents. Ms. Goodrich delivers the melodic, winsome “Being Mrs. Banks,” as she tries to understand her role in this marriage. McKillip is hilarious as he travels down the road, from stern businessman to the forgotten, treasured joys of fatherhood.
Between 1934 and 1991 author P.L. Travers published a series of eight children’s books about the spit-spot governess which were later adapted into Disney’s 1964 Academy Award-winning film classic, that starred Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. In 2004 Cameron Mackintosh premiered his theatrical version in London; two years later the musical took Broadway by storm. As compared with the film, songs were both added and deleted, characters were changed or re-imagined and the whole tone of the show was made darker, to keep it closer to original intent of Travers’ stories. Emphasis shifted to the children’s naughty behavior within their dysfunctional Edwardian family and the ultimate life lessons learned through a medley of magical, musical adventures lead by Mary Poppins.
And magical they are indeed. Director L. Walter Stearns, musical director Eugene Dizon and choreographer Brenda Didier have brought this story to life in a production especially suited to the more modest Mercury stage. The opening night audience stopped the production at least twice with appreciative ovations for some of the more energetic and delightful musical numbers. “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” already a mouthful, leaves you breathless by the end of this gymnastically performed musical number and its two encores. The frenetic “Step in Time,” performed by Bert, Mary, the two Banks children and a retinue of chimney sweeps, leaps and taps across the rooftops of London. “Jolly Holiday” uses the entire playing area to replicate a colorful English park of revelers, including Mary, Bert, the children and a dancing statue that’s come-to-life.
Magical, soaring through the air, bursting with color and spectacle and full of delightful characters, catchy tunes and impressive choreography, brought to the stage by a talented 18-member cast, this “Jolly Holiday” with Mary and her friends is “Practically Perfect.” With inventive scenic design by Adam Veness, gorgeous costumes by Rachel Boylan, wigs and hair designed by Kevin Barthel, this show is just what we need these days to remind us of the tremendous joy that a great theatrical production can provide for all ages.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented March 29-May 28 by Mercury Theater, 3745 N. Southport Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available in person at the box office, by calling them at 773-325-1700 or by going to www.MercuryTheatreChicago.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.