Original Music and Lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman
Book by Julian Fellowes
New Songs and Additional Music and Lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe
Co-Created by Cameron Mackintosh
Directed by – Derek Whitener
Music Director – Rebecca Lowrey
Choreographer – Brandon Harvey
Set Design – Alex Krus
Costume Design – Victor Newman Brockwell
Lighting Design – Scott Davis
Props Design – Connie Hay
Wig Design – Logan Coley Broker
Stage Manager – Maggie Hunter
Michael Scott McNay – Bert
Dan Servetnick – George Banks
Elisa Danielle James – Winifred Banks
Lauren Scott – Jane Banks
Parker Niksich – Michael Banks
Ashley Markgraf – Katie Nana/Chatterbox
Andrew Bedpost Friedrich – Policeman/Chatterbox
Paul Niles – Admiral Broom/Von Hussler
Marilyn Setu – Miss Lark/Mrs. Corry/Chatterbox
Kristal Seid – Mrs. Brill/Bird Woman
David Vaughn – Robinson Ay/Northbrook/Chatterbox
Kate Dressler – Mary Poppins
Kwame Lilly – Neleus/Chatterbox
Christina Kudlicki Hoth – Chatterbox
Logan Coley Broker – Chatterbox
Sarah Roberts – Miss Smyth/Chatterbox
Jonathan Hardin – Valentine/Chatterbox
Cassidy Lowrey – Willoughby
Caroline Rivera – Miss Andrew
David Vaughn – Understudy for Bert
Elisa Danielle James – Understudy for Mary
Reviewed Performance 11/6/2015
Reviewed by Carol M. Rice, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The character of Mary Poppins first burst onto the scene in 1934, in the first of eight children’s books chronicling her adventures with the Banks family. The series was written by P.L. Travers and illustrated by Mary Shepherd. The final book wasn’t published until 1988, but well before then, in 1964, the beloved movie starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke was released. This is where most of us fell in love with Mary Poppins.
In 2004, Disney Theatrical, in collaboration with Cameron Mackintosh (who had previously acquired the stage rights from Ms. Travers), produced a musical for the stage, also called Mary Poppins, in the West End in London. The musical was transferred to Broadway in 2006, where it was a big hit, running until March 3, 2013. Also in 2013, the film Saving Mr. Banks, starring Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson, depicted the making of the 1964 film.
Needless to say, Mary Poppins had legs long before hitting the stage.
I haven’t seen the iconic movie since I was a kid and I missed Saving Mr. Banks in the theaters and on Netflix, but I actually saw the Broadway version of Mary Poppins in 2009 on a trip to New York. The main things I remember about it were the amazing set, the statues magically coming to life in the park scene and dancing beautifully and colorfully, and (less vividly) Mary Poppins flying out into the audience at the end of the show. I remember very little about the show as a whole.
Fast-forward to The Firehouse Theatre here in 2015. Upon first glance, Alex Krus’ set seems rather simple and almost boring, as it’s completely done in shades of gray, but wait! While its transformation isn’t nearly as dramatic as the one I remember on Broadway, it definitely has its transformative elements, and I applaud director Derek Whitener and Mr. Krus for making the most of the intimate theatre with such creative use of the space. Nooks and crannies, secret doors, various shapes and heights of steps - it all works together brilliantly.
Scott Davis’ lights have a lot to do with the set and how it functions. Vibrant, shifting colors indicate the moods of the characters and assist with the changing of scenes. The only thing that was distracting about the set and lights was that the audience could see the shadows of people crossing in front of the cyclorama, and we even occasionally saw the tops of heads peeking above the set. Overall, however, the lights and set were a true highlight.
This is not to disparage the talented cast in any way, as everyone did an outstanding job. There were no weak links in the bunch.
Mary Poppins as portrayed by Kate Dressler was lovely. Both her stern seriousness and winning smile were completely believable, and her emotion at the end was catching, as I felt myself tear up. Vocally she was more than competent, if not overly strong, and she gave a solid, well-rounded performance that was a joy to watch.
Michael Scott McNay as Bert grew on me as the show went on. His accent was often hard to understand, but his reedy singing voice was pleasant. And once we got to see him turn on the tap shoes in Act II, I was sold. He was effortlessly mesmerizing in “Step in Time,” especially. His disguised appearance as the bank manager was also a treat.
Dan Servetnick and Elisa Danielle James as Mr. and Mrs. Banks were an appropriately frustrating couple at the beginning and grew delightfully together as Mary Poppins worked her magic. Both were vocally strong and emotive, especially Ms. James, whose heartbreak at what she gave up to become Mrs. Banks was palpable.
Caroline Rivera came into Act II as Miss Andrew as an evil whirlwind, scaring not only the children and Mr. Banks but the audience as well. She was focused and extremely powerful vocally, making the most of her brief role.
Lauren Scott as Jane and Parker Niksich as Michael complemented each other well as the spoiled yet malleable Banks children. Both had excellent facial expressions and while Miss Scott often spoke too softly, we forgave her because she was so expressive. Mr. Niksich was much stronger overall and was very fun to watch. I’ve had the privilege to work with him in the past, and it was nice to see him grow as an actor. I expect him to go far.
While the leads were wonderful, easily my favorite part was of the show was the amazing ensemble. They were always present yet invisible, and they performed everything from quick and efficient set changes to rousing tap numbers to solid and beautiful harmony. The choreography by Brandon Harvey and musical direction by Rebecca Lowrey were skillfully highlighted by this talented group, and their costume changes were often subtle from character to character, yet more than enough to differentiate them.
Speaking of the costumes, they were exquisite. Victor Newman Bockwell's clever designs coupled with the wigs by Logan Coley Broker increased the show’s production values immeasurably and brought an overall professional feel to the production.
While the show I saw on Broadway may have been much more technically thrilling, I got a great deal more out of this production emotionally, and I have a feeling I’ll remember it much, much longer. Mr. Whitener , Ms. Lowrey, and Mr. Harvey and the talented cast, designers, and crew have collaborated to bring us a solid, thoroughly entertaining version of Mary Poppins that I highly recommend.
Mary Poppins is the third show I’ve attended at The Fireside Theatre, and each time I’m there, they’ve made improvements not only in the space, but also in their production values. Each time, everything’s just a little bit tighter, a little bit better. This is a theatre company that is truly making its mark on the Dallas/Ft. Worth theatre scene, and I look forward to seeing what changes have occurred next time I’m there.
The Firehouse Theatre, 2535 Valley View Lane. Farmers Branch, TX 75234
Runs through November 22
Actual days (Thursday – Saturday at 7:30 pm and Sunday at 2:30 pm). Tickets are $ 16-20. For information and to purchase tickets, go to www.thefirehousetheatre.com address or call the box office at 972-620-3747.