The Column Best in DFW Theater 2016

 

 

 

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MARY POPPINS MARY POPPINS
Music and lyrics by Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman (with additional music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe) and script by Julian Fellows

Denton Community Theatre

Production Crew:
Director – James D. Laney
Associate Director – Connie Lane
Music Director (Vocal) – Becky King
Music Director (Orchestral) – Ray Staniszewski
Choreographer – Liz J. Millea
Costume Coordinator/Manager – Erin Gern
Scenic Designer and Projections – Philip Lamb
Lighting Designer – Brad Speck
Sound Designer and Operator – Danica Bergeron

Cast:
Bert – Walker Sims
George Banks – Scott Deck
Winifred Banks – Liz J. Millea
Jane Banks – Kate Dillingham
Michael Banks – Lukas Jimenez-Bolin
Katie Nanna – Kay Lamb
Policeman – John Rand
Miss Lark/Miss Smythe – Sharon Barnhill
Willoughby Lark – Pee Wee Barnhill
Admiral Boom – Fred Cassell
Mrs. Brill – Kimberly Mickel
Robertson Ay – Seth O’Bannon
Mary Poppins – Beth Lipton
Park Keeper – Michael Bryant
Neleus/Northbrook – Kieran Hansen
Queen Victoria – Jo Cassell
Bank Chairman/Poseidon – Ron L. Chapman
Von Hussler – Bryson Beavers
Bird Woman – Ashton Richie
Mrs. Corry – Melissa Sims
Valentine/Messenger – Allison Barr
Miss Andrew – Leigh Ann Stadt

Adult Ensemble – Katie Butler, Paul Iwanicki, Chriss Keil, Sarah Perez, Rachel Rhodes, Elaina Trent
Featured Dancers/Adult Ensemble – Sean Calvin, Mary Helber, Charles Jackson, Kristi Smith Johnson, Piper Johnson, Kate McDonald, Rae Perry, Caitlyn Polson, Ashlynn Rodriguez
Children’s Ensemble – Jessi Crouse, Allie McDonald, Christina McDonald, Rachael Sims

MARY POPPINS






Reviewed Performance 4/8/2016

Reviewed by Joel Gerard, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

When I was a kid, my favorite movie to watch while I was sick at home in bed was Mary Poppins. It always made me feel better. Denton Community Theatre’s production of Mary Poppins made me feel great too. I had seen the Broadway touring show a couple years ago and I wasn’t too impressed. It felt overstuffed and scattered. This production felt more balanced and intimate. Mary Poppins is a delightful show and the songs are great fun.

The stage musical is based on the Disney movie from 1964, but there is also a lot of content drawn from the original books by P.L. Travers. Of course the classic songs from the movie are included along with some new ones. There are a couple new songs that are duds, but “Being Mrs. Banks” is one of the few standouts. The script is by Julian Fellows of “Downton Abbey” fame. There are more scenes than I would have expected that have a somber feeling. One song in particular is called “Playing the Game” sung by the toys in the nursery which have come to life. The toys are a little scary and the tone of the song is very macabre. It seemed out of place in the story. Also, “Supercalifragilisticexpealidocious” is obviously a highlight of the show and it organically feels like it should be the end of Act 1. However, there are still about three more scenes after that song, and it feels like a letdown to end the act on a quiet scene when it could have gone into intermission on a high note.

Mary Poppins is a tricky role for an actress. Mary is stern yet kind; joyous yet serious; caring yet detached; aloof yet warm. This dichotomy is a delicate balancing act for a fascinating character. Beth Lipton does a fantastic job as Mary. She brought out the quirkiness and whimsy in Mary. Ms. Lipton very ably carried the show and impressed with how good of an actress and dancer she is. She is “practically perfect in every way”.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Walker Sims as Bert. Mr. Sims is a student and plainly too young for this role. It looked odd for him to be flirting with Mary and giving advice to Mr. Banks when he looks so much younger than the other characters. Considering all the other roles were cast age-appropriately, he looked out of place within the context of the scenes. Mr. Sims played every scene straight out and to the back row of the theater. Consequently, he didn’t feel present in scenes with the other actors onstage and didn’t connect with the emotional moments. I give him props for tackling a big role, but he’s still too green to be a leading man.

Scott Deck plays George Banks, the patriarch of the Banks family who works at a bank. George is all about “precision and order” and has become distant toward his wife and indifferent about his kids. Mr. Deck did a great job portraying the seriousness and formality of the character. I would have liked to have seen a little more emotion from him. Particularly during the scenes where George was suspended from his job and depressed, then more elation when he's reconnected with his family.

Winifred Banks has probably the greatest character journey throughout the show. She’s balancing being a mother and wife, all the while seeking a way to find her place in this world and how to be useful in it. Liz J. Millea plays Winifred and she was hands down the best actor in the show. She hit every emotional moment and sung every song beautifully.

Jane and Michael Banks are the mischievous children who keep running off their nannies. Of course that is until Mary Poppins arrives and teaches them to use their imagination and importance of family. Both Kate Dillingham as Jane and Lukas Jimenez-Bolin as Michael were very accomplished actors. I was very impressed with their maturity and understanding of the material. They also sounded great vocally. I think there were times they got excited, rushing their lines and running words together, but overall great work from the young actors.

Special mention goes to the trio of women Leigh Ann Stadt as Miss Andrew, Ashton Richie as Bird Woman, and Melissa Sims as Mrs. Corry. All of them absolutely stunned with their singing and acting. Their beautiful, soaring voices practically stole the show.

The most impressive aspect of the show were the projections by Philip Lamb. Animated projections on the back screen showed backgrounds such as the interior of the Banks’ house, nursery, the park, the bank, and the rooftops of London. They switched back and forth with ease, except for one minor glitch on opening night. Considering the Campus Theatre has no fly system, this was a creative way to make Mary Poppins “fly” with her umbrella over London and Bert walk up the walls. The projections were wisely used as well for the magical aspects of Mary Poppins pulling a coat rack and mirror out of her bag.

Set design, also by Mr. Lamb, was a bit of a mixed bag. I loved the detailed false proscenium decorated like an early 1900’s children’s toy theatre. The colors and drawings evoked the original Mary Poppins book illustrations by Mary Shepard and reinforced the children’s fable aspect of the show. However, instead of using real couches, tables, beds, toy boxes on the stage, there were cardboard cutouts drawn to look like furniture. I understood the concept, but it just wasn’t very practical. The actors looked silly trying to interact with a cardboard cutout of a bed or couch, when a real couch would have given them someplace to sit. It also would have created more levels on the stage. The set transitions weren’t very quick, so I can’t see why real furniture would have taken much longer to get on and off stage.

Costumes were another highlight of the show. Erin Gern coordinated a cohesive set of costumes that looked time-period and class appropriate. The adults wore a more Victorian style dress, while the younger kids wore more contemporary patterns and styles from the era. The real standouts were the costumes for Mary Poppins herself. They looked identical to the ones from the movie and fit Beth Lipton perfectly. The costumes for Bert should have looked a little more worn and dirty befitting his lower class and odd jobs, but the colors looked great.

Liz J. Millea choreographed all the songs and the cast really delivered. High-energy numbers such as “Supercalifragilisticexpealidocious” and “Step in Time” were fun and exciting to watch. The ensemble of dancers did great work, especially all the tap dancing involved during “Step in Time”. Ms. Millea pulled double-duty as choreographer and as Winifred Banks. Her hard work paid off.

Director James D. Laney made some excellent choices to properly scale down such a big show in the Campus Theatre. His creativity made good use of the space and the magical elements. Mary Poppins is about imagination and change. Several characters are changed for the better because of Mary and her unorthodox magic and games. Everyone could use a little Mary Poppins in their life.




MARY POPPINS
Denton Community Theatre
214 West Hickory Street, Denton, TX 76201, Playing through April 17. Tickets: For dates, times, and ticket information go to www.dentoncommunitytheatre.com or call the box office at (940) 382-1915.