The world’s most enchanting nanny has at long last landed in our midst, courtesy of the St. Gregory Theatre Group’s “Mary Poppins,” which upholds the group’s long-standing reputation for eye-popping summertime spectacles.
Devotees of the Walt Disney film may find the stage adaptation darker than expected, but connoisseurs of the stories by the character’s creator, P.L. Travers, will be delighted to discover that adventures omitted in the screen version are incorporated.
The scene is London; the time, the turn of the last century. The family at the center of the story, the well-to-do George and Winifred Banks and their young children, Jane and Michael, find themselves in a state of turmoil when into their lives pops the delightful if strict heroine who restores order and assures a happy ending for all.
In the title role, Meghan Gratzer is lovely to look at and a pleasure to listen to. She calls to mind Julie Andrews, singing in a clear, lilting soprano. Less successful musically is leading man Matt DiSiena, a bundle of energy who brings tremendous likability to the role of jack-of-all-trades Bert.
Several other performers create lasting impressions, none more so than a precocious youngster named Ryan O’Connor, a natural performer who imbues Michael with true personality. Lea Frawley, as Jane, is more subdued, but the two play off each other well and sing with assurance.
Their parents are played by an appropriately standoffish John Schule and an endearing Melissa Jillian Corona.
Ensemble member Deanna Mayo stands out in several roles, most notably as a statue that comes to life, while Thomas Laskowski is a quick-change artist, taking on many characters, each with a distinct personality.
As the Bird Woman who beckons all to “Feed the Birds” in a touching number, Lori Santopetro has moments to shine.
Almost stealing the show is scenic designer extraordinaire Todd Wilkerson, who devised oversized movable set pieces that are at once attractive and extraordinarily utilitarian. The many set changes are handled adroitly by a crew who were choreographed as painstakingly as the show’s dance corps. Wisely, the shifts are in full audience view.
Costume designer Marjorie Wilkerson has filled the stage with a wide variety of colorful outfits. Greg Brown is responsible for the effective lighting scheme.
Amanda Dupuy makes an auspicious directorial debut with this production, keeping the action moving almost uninterrupted, though, at times, the pacing at the premiere was a bit sluggish. She is abetted by Annie Wilkins’ simple but effective choreography. Several production numbers stand out, particularly “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” which came close to stopping the show.
The musical accompaniment, under the direction of Ron Armani, included a few missed notes. Multiple special effects added to the show’s overall effectiveness.
It would be impossible for any stage version to match the magic of the film, which features a terrifically tuneful score by the famed Sherman Brothers and innovatively combines live action performances with top-notch animation.
The show’s creators have unwisely replaced some original songs with lesser efforts by a different songwriting team, but the stage version creates wonders of its own. Even the youngest in Friday’s opening night audience were rapt, despite a nearly three-hour running time.