Sunday, December 14, 2014

Mary Poppins—NW Children’s Theatre—NW Portland

“Walking With Giants”

This stage musical is based on the Disney film by Richard and Robert Sherman, with additional material by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe and book by Julian Fellowes, from the stories of P.L. Travers.  It is directed and choreographed by Sarah Jane Hardy (NWCT’s Artistic Director) and plays through January 4th at their space at 1819 NW Everett St.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-222-4480.

As mentioned, this play is based on the film which, in turn, is based on the stories by Travers about a dowdy, middle-aged, no-nonsense nanny, but transformed into Julie Andrews for the movie.  It is usually the film based on a play.  But, in this case, some memorial songs/plots/characters have been deleted and new ones added.  Unfortunately, these additions/deletions are not always an asset in the play.  This is not the fault of the production, which is amazing, but of the script.

Travers always insisted that the story was never about saving the children from an authoritarian upbringing, but in rescuing Mr. Banks, the father, from becoming like a Scrooge.  I guess you can consider Poppins a sort of Marley of the story.  This, in turn, inspired the movie, Saving Mr. Banks, with Emma Thompson as the author.  And, admittedly, this adaptation does place more emphasis on this character.  He is akin to the militarist Capt. Van Trapp (The Sound of Music) with his children.

The story follows the Banks’ family.  The father, George (Andrés Alcalá), is the respected member of a banking firm, and authoritarian in the way he treats his family.  The mother, Winifred (Elizabeth Hadley), is a wannabe artist but is stifled in her dreams by her strict husband.  The children, Jane (Kaylee Bair or Libby Rouffy) and Michael (Kieran Gettel-Gilmartin) are brats because of this domineering atmosphere.

Enter, Mary Poppins (Chrissy Kelly-Pettit), the magical nanny from a netherworld.  She does not tolerate bad behavior, in anybody, but does believe in exercising one’s imagination.  She introduces the children to a world of magic, with her cohort, Bert (John Ellingson), a sometimes chimney-sweep and sometimes artist, who is a bit sweet on Poppins.  Her influence is contagious and little by little things begin to change in the household.  But the success of this production is not the story but the songs and the staging of the musical numbers.

Gone (unfortunately) are the musical numbers, “I Love to laugh” and, especially, “Sister Suffragette.”  But the rest of the classics are firmly in place, such as, “A Spoonful of Sugar,” “Jolly Holiday,” “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” “Chim Chiminey,” “Step In Time,” “Supercala…(well, you know)” and my personal favorite (who, I understand, was also Disney’s), “Feed The Birds.”  As well as all the songs are performed by the cast, the elements that hit it out of the ballpark are the dance numbers, “Super…,” “Jolly Holiday,” “A Spoonful of Sugar,” and the absolutely astounding, “Step in Time!”  That is, in my opinion, the best choreographed dance routine I’ve ever seen on the stage!  A showstopper and an amazing stunner!  And all thanks to Hardy.

Kelly-Pettit has the right look and sound for this role.  She was terrific in lead roles in The Music Man (Broadway Rose) and Avenue Q (Triangle) and again excels as Poppins.  She is the quintessential performer for all those great, musical lead roles.  Ellingson as Bert (and the scenic Designer) is one of the mainstays of NWCT.  He has played major roles and designed many of their musical productions and has always been an asset to a show.  His singing and dancing in this one are amazing and his cockney accent sounds spot on.  Alcalá is a standout.  He plays this complex role, showing both the stress of his position as bread-earner and the product of an abusive childhood, and the softer side of the man with his dreams.  A beautiful performance.

Hadley has a great voice and the children show their talents, too, as they traverse the demands of such heavy roles in song and dance.  And to be highly commended are the 10 actors that manage to portray the other 50 roles in the show.  They are definitely a major part of the success of the production!  Among them that shine are Erik James, Sam Burns, Leif Schmit and Signe Larsen.  And I must also give kudos to the usually forgotten souls in this production, the scene changers.  They were essential to the quick and smooth flow of the show and rarely had a hiccup in these frequent maneuvers.  The costumes (designer, Mary Rochon) and music (director, Tracy Ross) were also solid leaders in the show’s success.

But the real champion is Hardy, herself, who led the charge.  It must have been a monumental challenge to coordinate all the many aspects of this production.  And to have done such an outstanding job of choreographing it, too, makes it almost unbelievable.  She has delivered an absolutely, scrumptious delight in providing us with such an energetic, enchanting entertainment!  One for the Ages, I believe!

It should be noted that this run is almost sold out so best get tickets quickly.  I highly recommend this production for the whole family.  If you do choose to go, please tell them that Dennis sent you.

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