December 22, 2010
We drove to Detroit to see Disney’s Mary Poppins at the Opera House, and what a delight it was! The Opera House audience was full of families with young children. It was fun to see them dressed in their best to come to the theatre – little girls in sparkling tulle dresses and little boys in their bow ties.
What I found most exciting was seeing talented Canadians in key roles of this big-time Broadway production. It certainly made me proud of our Canadian triple threats.
We were especially happy to see Mark Harapiak (he was King Arthur in Camelot when our son, Thomas, toured with it last year) and enjoyed a visit with him over coffee before the show. He plays Von Hussler and ensemble roles such as a dancing chimney sweep. Mark has an impressive career, including five seasons with the Stratford Festival, and two seasons at the Shaw Festival. Recently, he was Coach Bolton in Disney’s High School Musical in Grand Bend and St. Jacobs.
Mark joins his wife, Blythe Wilson, in this production. Blythe is Mrs. Banks, mother of Jane & Michael, the bratty kids in need of a nanny. Blythe was recently the Baroness in the Toronto production of The Sound of Music, and was Laurie in Oklahoma!, and Nancy in Oliver!, both in Stratford. She has also had such as roles as Donna in Mama Mia!, and was the Narrator in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat on national tour. Blythe is excellent as Mrs. Banks, and her vocal talent is showcased in “Being Mrs. Banks.”
Nicolas Dromard is Bert, the artist and chimney sweep who is Mary’s best friend. Nicolas, from Ottawa, just finished playing Fiyero in Wicked in San Fransicso, and lists himself as a proud Canadian in the Mary Poppins playbill. His dancing in Step in Time is amazing and he actually dances up one wall, across the proscenium arch and down the other side!
Laird McIntosh is Mr. Banks, playing the nervous, unhappy man very well, and taking the character through his transformation. Laird has extensive credits from the Stratford – he was Billy in My One and Only, Lieutenant Cable in South Pacific, Cornelius in Hello Dolly!, and Rapunzel’s Prince in Into the Woods, to name a few, as well as numerous Toronto productions.
Eric Coles is Northbrook, the hapless entrepreneur that Mr. Banks ultimately decides to help. Eric is a graduate of Sheridan College’s music theatre program, and he has had roles in Canadian productions including Rock of Ages, The Producers, Kiss of the Spider Woman, and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
Canadians certainly have the corner on the necessary British accents, and were complemented by several cast members from the U.K. Caroline Sheen of Wales was “practically perfect” as Mary Poppins – no, she was perfect!
Favourite scenes include the Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious number where they spell out the song – in the style of YMCA by the Village People, but much more frenetic – and of course, much longer. The finale is especially exciting when Mary Poppins simply flies off the stage, up over the audience and into the back of the balcony.
With a theatre full of children there was lots of rustling about in the audience, but most were very attentive. Frankly, there were more adults making noise slurping on large “sodas” and rattling the ice, or crunching on popcorn. At intermission, we saw an adult spill a large pop all over the coat that the person sitting in front of him had left on her seat. I know they are serving shots in the Royal Alex during Rock of Ages, but I am still at a loss as to why American theatres think food and drink is OK. I guess they make money selling the stuff. But it seems ironic when Canadian audiences are usually asked not to rattle cellophane when we unwrap a mint in our theatres.
This tour leaves Detroit this week, and moves on for a month in Pittsburgh, and then various venues across the U.S. Check the schedule here: http://disney.go.com/theatre/marypoppins/tour/#/home/ There are rumours it may come to Toronto next fall – we’ll watch for it!