A Musical Based On The Stories of P.L. Travers
Original Music and Lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman
Book by Julian Fellowes
New Songs and Additional Music and Lyrics by Anthony Drewe and George Stiles
Co-Created by Cameron Mackintosh
Artisan Center Theater
Director – Marla A. Schulz
Music Director—Mary Hanna
Scenic Designer—Wendy Searcy-Woode
Costume Designer – Nita Cadenhead
CAST (at reviewed performance)
Mary Poppins—Maddie Mateer
Mr. Banks—David Priddy
Mrs. Banks—Rita Nsumbu
Robertson Ay—Carrol Savage
Mrs. Brill—Kimberly Sypert
Miss Andrews—Faith Hope Cheesman
Bird Woman—Alyssa Meekins
Katie Nanna/Mrs. Corry—Melissa Tillman
Miss Lark—Jessica Olson
Admiral Boom/Bank Chairman—Fred Patterson
Von Hussler/Mr. Punch—Seth May
Park Keeper—Duncan Parkes
Fannie/Mrs/ Smythe—Hope Taylor
Singing Ensemble—Faith Hope Cheesman, Alyssa Meekins, Fred Patterson, Michael Hasty
Dance Ensemble—River Sypert, Soleil Sypert, Sara Grace Prejean, Melissa Tillman, Jessica Olson, Michael Hasty, Seth May, Duncan Parkes, Larkin Felts, Catherine Langley, Carrol Savage, Caitlyn Bonnett, Hope Taylor, Mallory Brinkley
Reviewed Performance: 6/20/2017
Reviewed by Genevieve Croft , Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Based on the stories of P.L. Travers, and the 1964 Disney film musical, “Mary Poppins” introduces the Banks family from Number Seventeen Cherry Tree Lane, London, consisting of Mr. and Mrs. Banks, their children Jane and Michael. When the children's nanny, Katie Nana, storms out in a huff, Mary Poppins arrives at their home, complete with her traveling carpetbag, blown in by a very strong East wind. She accepts the job (agreeing to stay "till the wind changes"), and the children soon learn that their nanny, has a magical touch that makes her wonderful. The stage musical pulls elements from the original book series, and the Disney film allowing audiences once again to be entertained by this magical nanny. Audiences quickly discover that things are not always as they seem, and “anything can happen if you let it.”
Director Marla A. Schulz brought together a talented ensemble (of all ages). There was never a moment when I felt that I was watching actors playing a role. From the veteran actors to the youngest members of the ensemble, each actor in the company was fully dedicated to the story that they were telling, and weaved a story of magic, mystery, and the story of the Banks’ family and other eccentric characters in 1910 London.
This was the first time that I had seen the stage version of Mary Poppins, and I was quite surprised to see how dark the story actually was. Of course, in true Disney fashion, the story that I had known all these years had been re-imagined to be very light-hearted, and fun (causing much controversy between author P.L. Travers and Mr. Disney-as told in the recent Tom Hanks/Emma Thompson film, “Saving Mr. Banks.”) While some of the material was cut, and some (of course) was added to enhance the adaptation from film to stage musical, the story stuck closely to the plot of the 1964 film, and also included new songs to enhance the original material.
Overall, I was impressed with the script, however, I will say that I was disappointed to learn that one of my favorite elements of the story (and accompanying song “Sister Suffragette) was omitted from the story. In fact, a few songs have been omitted. However, that is to be expected in the transition from book series and film to stage musical.
Set Designer Wendy Searcy-Woode successfully transformed the theatre-in-the-round stage and took audiences back to the Edwardian London. I am always struck by how scenic designers are able to accomplish in a short amount of time, and with such precision for detail and care. Ms. Searcy-Woode effectively utilized the space, while also keeping the intimacy of the story. It paid the appropriate homage to the Disney film, while also allowing Ms. Searcy-Woode to take some creative license herself. It was impressive to see Ms. Searcy-Woode transform the intimate space of the Artisan Center Theatre into the Bank’s home, and the quintessential park where Mary and Bert have some of their most memorable moments in the story.
Nita Cadenhead designed costumes that were not only period appropriate but had a fine attention to detail. Edwardian London had lovely fashions, and was one of the last time periods for very formal wardrobe. The attention to detail was evident in Ms. Cadenhead’s designs. The costumes were visually appealing, and also pledged the appropriate faithfulness to the original film. I absolutely loved seeing Mary Poppins’ quintessential daisy hat! It was fantastic. As with any other element of design (especially when the stage musical is based on another selection of material) designers have two ways to approach their designs. They can either pay very close attention to detail, and try to recreate the magic and details of what audiences remember, or they can use the original as inspiration. Ms. Cadenhead was able to do both, and did them beautifully.
The production was plagued with some apparent scenic issues causing a delay in transitions and slowing the pace and energy of the production on the evening that I saw the production. (The approximate run time of the production was close to 3 hours). However, I feel confident as the production moves further into its’ production run, some of these issues will work themselves out. “Mary Poppins” is such a technically heavy show (multiple locations, and the flight of Mary Poppins) that these issues would pose a huge undertaking for even the most advanced production companies. Additionally, the actors overcame some issues with the mics early on and were able to adapt quickly to some apparent audio issues.
Maddie Mateer was extraordinary in the role Mary Poppins. I would venture to say that she was “practically perfect” for the role. Through vocal intonation, and facial expressions, Ms. Mateer convincingly played the role that Musical Theatre Grand Dame Julie Andrews made famous. Ms. Mateer even resembled Julie Andrews. Ms. Mateer played the world’s most famous nanny with confidence, charisma, and grace. From her British accent to her singing voice her performance is exceptional.
Another standout is Jared Kyle in the role of Bert. Kyle is the perfect modern-day Bert, no easy role to jump into following in the well-timed steps of Dick Van Dyke, famous for his role as Bert in the Disney film. Kyle is phenomenal mastering the cockney accent and holding his character throughout the show. Mr. Kyle was memorable in the role of Bert, and certainly brought his own uniqueness to the role.
Two ensemble actors who deserve a huge acknowledgement are Alyssa Meekins (as the Bird Woman) and Faith Hope Cheesman (as the delightfully evil Miss Andrews, the nanny hired to take over the charge of the Banks’ children after Mary Poppins exits at the end of Act I.
Ms. Meekins gave life and a beautiful voice to the Bird Woman who sells feed for the birds outside the London Cathedral (for a mere “Tuppence A Bag”). One of my least favorite songs from the film has easily become one of my favorites from this production due to the talented and honest voice of Ms. Meekins. Ms. Meekins has a great deal of talent, and it was clearly evident to this reviewer on Tuesday night. Brava, Ms. Meekins.
In contrast, Ms. Cheesman filled the intimate space of Artisan with “Brimstone and Treacle,” a song similar to “Good and Evil” from Jekyll and Hyde, or “Little Girls” from Annie. Ms. Cheesman was able to convey her nasty character with big facial expressions, and a larger than life presence on stage. Ms. Cheesman took over the stage, and belted out her number in true Broadway fashion. Her talents on stage never faltered, and her portrayal of the fierce and wicked Miss Andrews was very memorable for the production.
Overall, the production had its enjoyable moments. There were a few technical elements that slowed the pacing and the production down, but, I feel confident that the cast and crew will work out these issues within the next performance or two. If you are a fan of Mary Poppins, I would certainly recommend you take the opportunity to see this production at Artisan Center Theatre. The experience will be a “jolly holiday” for all ages.
Plays through July 22nd.
Artisan Center Theater
444 E Pipeline Rd, Hurst, TX 76053
Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays (7:30pm)
Seniors (60+) / Students $20
Children (12 & under) $9
Fridays (7:30pm), Saturdays (3:00pm / 7:30pm)
Seniors (60+) / Students $20
Children (12 & under) $11
For more information, and to purchase tickets, call: 817) 284-1200, or visit: http://www.artisanct.com.