It's a good thing producer Cameron Mackintosh wouldn't take no for an answer when he approached author P.L. Travers about creating a stage version of her stories about “Mary Poppins.” Travers hadn't been fond of the Disney film so her reluctance was understandable.
But Mackintosh prevailed and 10 days before Christmas in 2004, “Mary Poppins” finally found her way to the stage. A Broadway production followed in 2006 and is still playing. And like its predecessors, this touring production of “Mary Poppins” also boasts its share of Disney magic.
Yes, Mary Poppins does fly and she also glides up the banister in the Banks' home. And in a moment inspired by “Singin' in the Rain,” Bert the chimneysweep defies gravity by walking sidewise and upside down on the edges of the proscenium.
Yet, while this production has much to admire, it's not “Practically Perfect” as Mary often proclaims about herself. Act I is not so much unfocused as it is listless. This is a talky show and the narrative too often interrupts the pacing. Things improve in Act II and the finale is charming.
Madison Ann Mullahey and Zachary Mackiewicz offer capable performances as Jane and Michael Banks but their high-pitched voices and lightning fast deliveries render many of their line readings incomprehensible. Tregoney Shepherd is delightful in the minor role of Mrs. Brill.
As Winifred Banks, Kerry Conte musters ample mothering instincts but also demonstrates a lovely, wistful voice in the poignant “Being Mrs. Banks.” Michael Dean Morgan's journey as George Banks goes from being gruff and emotionally deficient to paternal and life-embracing.
While Madeline Trumble's portrayal as Mary Poppins is spunky, efficient and disciplined, it's a studied performance that never fully conveys her character's warmth. One also wishes for a more genteel approach that would soften her portrayal. Trumble is fine vocally, with a fluttery vibrato that gives a lilt to “A Spoonful of Sugar” and the aforementioned “Practically Perfect.”
University of Oklahoma grad Con O'Shea-Creal steals the show as the chimneysweep Bert, a recurring character that gently nudges the story along. It's a role O'Shea-Creal was destined to play, with its combination of good-natured fun (marvelously displayed in “Jolly Holiday”), lively tap dancing (“Step In Time”) and boyish charm (“Let's Go Fly a Kite”). He's on a fast track to success.
When the cast joins in on the wildly choreographic “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and the soaring “Anything Can Happen,” that Disney magic reminds you why the appeal of “Mary Poppins” crosses the generations. It's a great tonic for warming your heart.
— Rick Rogers