Theatre review: Mary Poppins is a jolly holiday treat

As the song goes “it’s a jolly ‘oliday with Mary” and the Arts Club Theatre Company proves it to be true with its production of Mary Poppins currently on stage at the Stanley Theatre.

A word of warning though, if you’re expecting a recreation of the 1964 Disney film you’ll need to hang many of those expectations at the door with your parrot handled umbrella; for while this stage version captures plenty of the magic of the mixed live-action and animated film, it is also a slightly darker version of the Mary Poppins saga which includes eight books written over five decades.  Given the reported negative reaction by author P.L. Travers to the sweetness of the Disney film though, this stage version is undoubtedly closer to her own vision.

As a fusion of the film and Travers’ books, this Mary Poppins remains both familiar and foreign. For example, the wildly popular “Step In Time” remains untouched atop the rooftops of London, but the dancing penguins are replaced by dancing statues.  And while poor Uncle Albert never gets an opportunity host his tea party floating mid-air, we do get an equally magical replacement as Bert (Scott Walters) tap dances around the proscenium.

Along with Walters’ fearless gravity-defying dance, this production offers up a number of additional stage effects that will keep even the oldest of the kids enthralled.  In another extraordinary piece of theatrical magic an equally fearless Sara-Jeanne Hosie as Mary Poppins takes flight just before curtain in a scene that has to be seen to be believed.

Of course theatrical tricks can only get you so far and it is up to the cast to deliver on the story.  As the original Supernanny herself Hosie is practically perfect in every way, giving a wonderful balance between the lovability and sternness of her Mary Poppins and proves once again that she is really is that sometimes elusive triple threat.

As Bert, Walters is a delightful combination of Dick Van Dyke and a member of the Monty Python gang.  Walters was particularly good in the musical interludes from his perch high above the Stanley stage, commanding us to listen with a soft singing voice as he acts as pseudo-narrator.  These quiet moments are wonderful contrasts to the wild abandon he embraces in some of the bigger production numbers.  That Walters is slated for next year’s Arts Club production of Spamalot comes as no surprise.

Sara-Jeanne Hosie as Mary Poppins and Scott Walters as Bert in the Arts Club Theatre Company production of Mary Poppins. Photo by David Cooper.

Sara-Jeanne Hosie as Mary Poppins and Scott Walters as Bert in the Arts Club Theatre Company production of Mary Poppins. Photo by David Cooper.

Warren Kimmel manages to illicit the only tears of the night with his portrayal of the father who is so focused on his job that he forgets what it means to live, and Catriona Murphy as his long-suffering wife sees a beautiful transition.  Susan Anderson gives us one of the best numbers of the evening in a hauntingly beautiful rendition of “Feed the Birds”.

The large ensemble is top-notch playing a myriad of characters with Shane Snow nearly stealing the show in a hilarious portrayal of the butler Robertson Ay.  The ensemble simply shines in the big production numbers including the iconic “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” thanks to Valerie Easton’s choreography, Alison Green’s sets and Bruce Kellet’s musical direction.

While a tad scarier than its film cousin, this Mary Poppins makes the trip to Cherry Tree Lane a wonderful new holiday tradition for the entire family.

Mary Poppins

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 Fellowes.  New songs and additional music by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe.  Co-created by Cameron Mackintosh. Directed by Bill Millerd.  An Arts Club Theatre Company production.  On stage at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage through January 5, 2014.

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Mark Robins on Google+

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