by Adam Cohen
Mary Poppins flies high once again in Paper Mill Playhouse’s latest musical. Replete with spectacular choreography (Denis Jones) meticulously and beautifully executed by a nimble cast, dexterous direction (Mark S. Hoebee) this is family fare that captivates.
Based on author P.L. Traver’s books and the 1964 Disney classic award winning movie musical set in London at the turn of the century centers on the Banks family. George (Adam Monley), his lovely wife Winifred (Jill Paice), and their rambunctious children Jane (Abbie Grace Levi) and Michael (John Michael Pitera) who run through nannies like a newborn and diapers. George is a strict hard working investment banker. Winifred is making her way through higher London society after leaving the West End spotlight for marriage. Jane and Michael write an advert for a nanny which is magically answered by Mary Poppins (Elena Shaddow). The children want their parent’s attention.
The show rolls out all of the sprightly original movie melodies by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman: “A Spoonful of Sugar,” “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” and, of course, “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”
Shaddow’s Mary takes her charges and job quite seriously, batting away the flirtations from chimney sweep/painter/narrarator Bert (Mark Evans). She’s a lovely expressive singer and her characterization – strict, loving; mischievous is a wonder to behold. Armed with her magical bag, powerful zapping that puts kids to sleep and straightens kitchens this Mary doesn’t allow herself to be loved instead focusing devotedly on the children and family. She knows this is a household in distress. One imagines the girl’s night out she, Mrs. Banks, and maid Miss Lark (Robin Lounsbury) would have. Shaddow brings knowing patience and subtle magic to the role. Evans’ captivating Bert bears a sinister edge; unrequited love for a Practically Perfect magical nanny could do that to a fellow. His expressive singing and limber dancing are magic of their own.
The plot hews closely to the movie – Mary escorts the Banks children on a variety of enchanting magical adventures in which they escape from the household to dance with statues in a park, fly a kite, and view the chimney sweeps dance (the fabulous act two “Step in Time”). Yes, there’s stagecraft – Mary’s bag disperses coat racks, lamps and plants. The illusions by Jill Steinmeyer and Robert Ramirez conceived are clever. But the true magic of the production lies in performances. Denis Jones’ choreography soars and creates a unique spontaneity – especially in the bigger numbers. This is a wonderfully sung production with expert musical direction by Meg Zervoulis. Liz McCartney brings pathos to the bird lady and fear to a new level as Miss Andrew. Jill Paice is wonderful as Mrs. Banks but one wishes she had more to do. Hoebee’s production has stellar dancing, full-throated stentorian singing, winningly relentless pizzazz that magically charms and will leave you singing any one of the memorable numbers for days on end. Grab your umbrella and head to Papermill. There’s magic to behold.
The movie was adapted for Broadway by book writer Julian Fellowes, with additional music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe with original songs by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman. It plays through June 25. More information at papermill.org
Photos: Matthew Murphy