Mary Poppins ~ Neptune Theatre, Halifax

It’s Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

After seeing the movie “Saving Mr. Banks”, one has a new take on the story of Mary Poppins.  The movie is about the life of P. L. Travers, the author of the Mary Poppins book series.  It offers insight into the battle she had with Walt Disney when the popular movie musical was made in the early sixties.   A stern woman, she was not amused by the Americanized movie.  She felt that Disney had diluted the harsher aspects of Mary Poppins, who was a strict nanny.  Mary Poppins Halifax3

The stage show is a wonderful hybrid of the movie and the books.  Pamela Travers was so disappointed in the movie (apparently she especially hated the cartoon penguins), that she didn’t allow the making of a stage show until she was in her nineties.  She stipulated that no one who had worked on the movie was to work on the stage version.  With Cameron Mackintosh, a Brit, producing the show, Travers felt more comfortable than she did with the American movie makers.  Another Brit, Julian Fellowes wrote the script with which she was satisfied.  (Fellowes went on to write the award winning TV series Downton Abby.)  Finally, the stage show opened in London’s West End in 2004.

This is the fifth production of Mary Poppins I’ve had the pleasure of seeing in the past three years.  And with apologies to P. L. Travers, I prefer this kinder, gentler Mary Poppins.

Heather McGuigan brings just that extra touch of kindness to the character, while remaining the strict and stern nanny when it comes to raising the children.  But when little Michael says “I love you, Mary Poppins”, you know that she loves him back, even though she can’t bring herself to say it.  McGuigan’s beautiful voice is perfect for singing the numbers that call for a Julie Andrews sound-alike.

Kyle Blair is the quintessential Bert.  He easily handles the role of narrator who can take a serious look at the situation, but he is also fun and mischievous, making magic happen.      Blair’s Bert is a little more smitten with Mary than some, which adds warmth to the show.  Blair, a favourite at both the Stratford and Shaw Festivals, is a true triple threat.

Marty Burt is Mr. Banks, whose workaholic, cold attitude certainly needs saving.  Burt makes George Banks’ transition heart-warming. Kristen Howell as Winnifred Banks has a beautiful voice for singing the wistful song “Being Mrs. Banks”.  The roles of the children are played delightfully on alternate performances by Avery Kadish and Amariah Faulkner as Jane with Jayden Greig and Aiden Tye as Michael.

Laura Caswell is strikes fear in the hearts of all as the mean nanny Mrs. Andrews.  And then she tugs at the heartstrings as the Bird Woman, singing a beautiful rendition of “Feed the Birds”.

Thomas Alderson and Martha Irving team up as the butler Robertson Ay and the housekeeper Mrs. Brill.  They provide the laughs, Irving with her sharp sarcasm and Alderson with physical comedy as the kitchen explodes around him.

Michelle E. White is charming as Mrs. Corry, proprietor of the Talking Shop.  Her Jamaican Patois adds to the fun as she sells the letters to make up everybody’s favourite word, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.  I enjoyed seeing White in the same role on the Broadway tour.

This production has a very strong ensemble.  The big song and dance numbers, “It’s a Jolly Holiday”, “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and “Step in Time” are especially good.  The tap dancing chimney sweeps with Bert airborne over the tops earns spontaneous applause.  Julius Sermonia as the dancing statue, Neleus, deserves special mention.

The costumes are fantastic: Even Mary’s signature suits, the familiar navy blue and the lovely bright red, are to be commended.  But in “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”, the robust colours and wide variety of styles are eye-catching.  There is only one questionable costume choice – why put skirts on statues?  The audience wants to believe that the statues come to life, but the realism of the statue is lost when it’s wearing a skirt.

Opening night was marred by technical difficulties with either the lighting or the projections when there were some strange flashes, but we assume those will be quickly corrected.

Near sell-out crowds are filling the Neptune Theatre: it is delightful to see children after the show, eyes wide, with big smiles.  Little girls are dressed up in sparkly frilly finery with shiny shoes.  And they are in awe because magic happens:  Mary Poppins’ bed appears, the kitchen repairs itself, Bert dances on the rooftops and Mary is carried off into the sky with her parrot head umbrella. As Mary Poppins says “Anything can happen if you let it.”  And it does in this enchanting, magical show.

Mary Poppins continues with eight shows a week at Neptune Theatre until May 25.  Call 902-429-7070 or 1-800-565-7345 or visit for tickets.

Mary Poppins
A musical based on the stories of P. L. Travers and the Walk Disney film, Co-created by Cameron Mackintosh
Original Music & Lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman
Book by Julian Fellowes
Additional material by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe
Directed by George Pothitos
Choreographed by Stephen Roberts
Musical direction by Lisa MacDougall
Performed by Heather McGuigan, Kyle Blair, et al
Neptune Theatre, Halifax
April 1 to May 25, 2014
Reviewed by Mary Alderson
Disclaimer:  Reviewer’s son is in the cast.


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