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MARY POPPINS: The Broadway Musical

MARY POPPINS: The Broadway Musical

A Musical based on the stories of P.L. Travers and the Walt Disney Film
Original Music and Lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman
Book by Julian Fellows
New Songs and Additional Music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe
Co-Created by Cameron Mackintosh

Plaza Theatre Company

Directors: Luke and Rachel Hunt
Music Director: Doug Henry
Co-Choreographers: Nicole Wheat and Tabitha Ibarra
Stage Manager: RuthAnn Warwick
Makeup Design and Artist: Michelle Cawood
Wall Murals and Set Painting: Julie Lee
Property Design: Soni Barrus
Magical Props: Gene and Roberta Young
Light Design: Cameron Barrus
Set Design: JaceSon P. Barrus
Sound Design: G. Aaron Siler
Costume Design: Tina Barrus

Mary Poppins - Meredith Browning
Bert - Matt Victory
George Banks - Luke Hunt
Winifred Banks - Abby Sherrill
Mrs. Brill - Katy Wood
Bird Woman - RuthAnn Warwick
Robertson Ay - Quentin Scott
Admiral Boom/Chairman - Jay Cornils
Jane Banks - Rylee Mullen
Michael Banks - Asher deMontalvo
Miss Lark - Katherine Anthony
Miss Andrew - Kathy Lemons
Neleus - Henry Cawood
Northbrook/Park Keeper - Nate Milson
Mrs. Corry - Amber Lanning
Von Hussler - JaceSon P. Barrus
Katie Nanna- Stormy Witter
Annie - Eden Barrus
Constable - Jason P. Cole

Dance Corps
David Midkiff (Dance Captain), Eden Barrus, Henry Cawood, Anna Looney,
Emma Whitehorn, Grace Dalley, Lena Morales, Maddie Almond, Marissa Wheat,
Samantha Bond, John Perna

Allie Bond, Anthony Sullivan, Baylor Cain, Devan Wenger, Erin Shirley,
Hunter Patrick, Jentry Sullivan, Julia Wood, Kellie Blankenship, Kenlie Earheart, Lily McClendon, Natalie Blankenship, Stormy Witter

Reviewed Performance 10/15/2016 (Saturday Evening Cast. Production is double cast.)

Reviewed Performance: 10/15/2016

Reviewed by LK Fletcher, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

Plaza Theatre Company is a North Texas Treasure. This small but mighty troupe in Cleburne, TX has high energy, finds solid talent and overall, exceeds the expectations of those who buy a ticket to see a show. They are a small company taking on major productions, which shows how determined they are to bring quality to the general public. Within a (very!) small space an enthusiastic cast liberally dosed with a spoonful of sugar bring a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious treat to the entire family in their bright and lively production of “Mary Poppins”.

Even if you have not revisited the movie since childhood, as soon as each character appears on stage and each song begins, you will be transported to a happier time and place in Directors’ Luke and Rachel Hunts’ lovingly crafted production.

This Broadway hit is based on the 1964 Walt Disney movie starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, though following a slightly different story. The development of the stage show was long and ongoing, as P.L. Travers refused to give the rights to Disney, who she felt had misconstrued her stories. Instead, she gave the stage rights to Cameron Macintosh – producer of well-known Broadway classics such as Cats, Les Misérables, and Phantom of the Opera. In return, Macintosh had to promise the author that the musical would not be as overly sweet as Disney had made it. However, to appeal to a greater audience, Macintosh knew that the Disney music must be brought to his production. Thus, a partnership was born.

If you saw the film when you were a child like I did, you probably thought it was about a brother and sister whose new nanny did very cool magic and took them to very cool places. Now that we’re grownups, however, we realize that this musical is also about absentee parents and the resulting loneliness in their children.

What makes Mary Poppins (Meredith Browning) suddenly appear at the Banks family home is not the cute letter little Jane (Rylee Mullen) and Michael (Asher deMontalvo) write to her. It’s her awareness that this family is in distress, despite the accoutrements of a huge house, pretty clothes and many servants. To Jane and Michael, those superficial things can’t take the place of an afternoon flying a kite with Father (Director Luke Hunt). But he is an investment banker and can’t be bothered with noisy children. Mother (Abby Sherrill) was an actress who gave up her career for her family.

So- Mary Poppins can fly. Meredith Browning brings enough magic to the stage in the role she could probably fly without the special effects of Gene and Roberta Young’s magical props, but Meredith Browning soars. As a singer and coach, I forgot how much legit singing there is the score. Ms. Browning was a “Practically Perfect” Mary Poppins in her beautiful lyric soprano as well as her stage presence. She was a delightful and charming Mary which is no easy feat. Mary Poppins, always a mystery, becomes something of a paradox — brusque and no-nonsense on the outside, she’s smoldering with warmth on the inside. These antitheses, often cancel each other, replacing personality with empty enigma except at the Plaza Theatre where “Anything Can Happen” and it does in the hands of a very capable Mary Poppins and cast.

Browning is partnered with Matt Victory who plays street artist and chimney sweep Bert. The two have a pleasant otherworldly chemistry that captivates. Victory’s version of Bert offers a dose of jovial goofiness and charm. Equally excellent are the vocals of Abby Sherrill, who brings so much to the character of Mrs. Banks. Sherrill could easily recede behind the front and center function of Mary Poppins, but she does not. The voice is lush and rich and Sherrill under the direction of the Hunts succeeds in partnering with her cast mates in what is a full-front ensemble production. Luke Hunt- playing the role of Mr. Banks as well as co-directing- offered a consistently strong performance as well as a lovely baritone. The dynamics that brought all of this to a really exceptional level of ensemble was the outstanding talents of the two young actors playing the Banks children- Rylee Mullen as Jane Banks and Asher deMontalvo as Michael Banks. Do these kids need an agent?? Rylee and Asher were exceptional in their beautiful accents, their Victorian deportment, their bel canto singing and most exceptionally in their sense of ensemble. They listened beautifully on stage and as the Bard says- “played well their parts”.

Physical Comedy is a big part of the playfulness of this production. Mrs. Brill, (Katy Wood) the culinary catastrophe in the kitchen and her less than capable side kick, Robertson Ay (Quentin Scott) are reminiscent of Laurel and Hardy as they trip and fumble through the daily chores of the Banks Household. Katy Wood is a brusque, defensive and hysterical Cockney mess as she plows through scenes trying to make things right in what is a charming and likeable performance. Her hapless partner is equally likeable as he plunges into every situation with the best of intentions and the least of abilities. They are a delightful duo.

There is a spectacular nanny sing-off between Mary and the mean nanny, Miss Andrew, played by Kathy Lemons. Lemons put fear and trembling into the adults and the children with her imposing and uncompromising persona. Quite the villainess, Lemons made lemonade out of every moment on stage.

Plaza Theatre Company has an abundance of talented young people, many whom are part of their Plaza Academy program. The Academy Program gave the production a plethora of young performers for the Ensemble and Dance Corps. This Company can dance. Co-Choreographers Nicole Wheat and Tabitha Ibarra executed an entertaining and well executed production. Cleburne rocked during "Step in Time," the chimney-sweep hoedown in a scene that was rounds of sheer fun as a crowd of chimney sweeps dancing for the sheer joy of it across the rooftops of London, free from social constraints.

The Victorian costumes including parasols and pooches were designed by Tina Barrus. Costumes were beautifully detailed. The exceptional work of creating the statues in the park in their iodized brass statue pieces, complimented by Makeup Design and Artist Michelle Cawood, was really well done. The statues had to not only be inanimate objects but also become highly animated dancers as well. This was done exceptionally well by young performer Henry Cawood as Neleus who was a show stopper. If you are over 30, think Mickey Rooney. Cawood is personable, engaging and a hoofer. The bank tellers crisp black and white costumes were a big graphic element in the scenes where Mr. Banks has to discern the nuance of his black and white environment.

There is a lot of magic in this production- and not just the props. Although the bottomless carpet bag and the disarray of a kitchen fiasco when the shelves themselves magically drop is pretty engaging. Lots of technical expertise was put into this production and it pays off in a big way, making a long show seem fast paced and upbeat and engaging the entire time. The directors and stage managers had a huge task negotiating incredibly quick and complex scene changes in this clever set.

The Plaza Theatre Company is in the round and a small space. Set Designer JaceSon P. Barrus utilized multiple set pieces in each scene- rugs and lampposts and beds and windows and chimneys and – oh- my… so very many things all choreographed to enter and exit with a well-trained cast. Stage Manager RuthAnn Warrick had her hands full between feeding the birds and moving the set. Warrick’s scenes as the Bird Woman were poignant and earnest.

Mary Poppins surprises and delights, and does so for all ages. It is hard to find a show that can be enjoyed whether you are 9 or 99, but this one fits the bill. Whether flying through the air or dancing on rooftops the sets, costumes, and cast performances work to create a well-oiled machine of a production that is a model of efficiency and engagement. Mary Poppins reminds audiences that “Anything can happen if you let it”.

Plaza Theatre Company
111 S. Main St. Cleburne, TX 76033
Show Times are Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 7:30PM and Saturday Matinee at 3PM
Show runs thru November 12, 2016. Many shows are sold out.