by Terrance Mc Arthur
“Spoonful of Sugar,” “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” “Chim-Chim Cheree,” “Step in Time,” “Feed the Birds,” “Let’s Go Fly a Kite.”
Sounds like there’s another production of Mary Poppins: the Broadway Musical in the Valley, and it’s from the CenterStage Clovis Community Theatre, playing through August 1. It’s an interesting mix of the 1964 Disney film and the P. L. Travers children’s books (Books? That’s right, it was a series; she wrote eight of them from the 30s to the 80s), including many of the Sherman Brothers songs from the movie and additional musical material by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, with a script by Julian Fellowes (the creator of Downton Abbey).
You probably remember a lot of it from watching Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. Jane and Michael Banks (Karlie Stemler and Jack Wren) have been going through nannies with alarming frequency until Mary Poppins (Christy Hathaway) comes along. She is magical, and takes the children on amazing adventures with her chimney-sweep friend Bert (Seth Scott). In the process, Mrs. Banks (Amy George) develops a backbone, and Mr. Banks (Patrick Gerrits) regains his humanity and becomes a real father.
Among the Missing—the suffragette subplot for Mrs. Banks, some of the best jokes in “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” and the whole laughing-on-the-ceiling scene with Ed Wynn. Added (but taken from the original Travers books)—a living statue, an old-old lady (who doesn’t look or act it), dolls and toys coming to life, and Miss Andrews (Jennifer Goettsch), the Anti-Poppins nanny who has terrorized generations of children (including Mr. Banks) and takes on the Banks household. I predict a surge of requests for the original books at local libraries.
You need a strong performer who can balance sweetness and power as Ms. Poppins. Luckily, Center Stage was able to call on the services of an experienced nanny; Hathaway had recently played the part in Selma, and she is confident and serene, with a touch of pepper in her spoonful of sugar. On top of that, she flies with grace and poise.
Seth Scott exudes a cheeky calm as Bert, who gets some impressive gravity-defying opportunities of his own. Seth doesn’t trowel on an outrageous accent in the Van Dyke fashion, but his voice has definite Cockney qualities.
Gerrits starts out stuffy and priggish, the typical, clueless, business-oriented father of children’s literature, but the character develops and grows into a good man, yet still an asset to the business. Amy George has a bell-clear voice that adds to her interpretation of a dutiful wife who learns to stand beside her man, and not in his shadow.
Donna Beavers is forthright and semi-crusty as the housekeeper, Mrs. Brill, and Dakota Simpson is nimble and bouncy as Robertson Aye, a servant/butler. Stemler and Wren go from willful demi-brats to willing Poppinsites, who would follow their nanny anywhere. They are cute kids, and their lines are always heard.
Goettsch is definitely heard and must be seen to be believed, with black/silver/white makeup that looks somewhere between Dracula, Viola Swamp (Miss Nelson Is Missing, a children’s book), and a black-and-white picture of Margaret Hamilton. She is a hoot-and-a-half.
Kelly Scott is wistful as the Bird Woman, yet there is strength in her rendition of “Feed the Birds.” Niko Kazanjian is unmoving beyond human limits and unbelievably bendable as Neleus, the statue who likes to get around. Ethel Birrell bounces from GCP’s Always a Bridesmaid to Poppins as a magical character of great age and great vitality.
Special mention must be paid to Romeo, who plays the part of Willoughby. I have never seen a more lifelike portrayal of a dog on stage as that rendered by this Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.
Steve Joiner and Michael Rea handle the rigging that makes Bert and Mary fly, and they never let down the actors.
If you go, expecting to see the Disney movie, you will not see a single penguin, but you will be surprised and delighted, and have a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious time!
Mary Poppins is at the Mercedes Edwards Theatre, 902 5th Street in Clovis through August 1. For more information and to purchase tickets, go to centerstageclovis.com.
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