Mary Poppins

Mary Poppins

Rachel Wallace as Mary Poppins
Rachel Wallace as Mary Poppins

Book by Julian Fellowes
Music & Lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman
New songs, music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe
Directed by Richard Eyre
Co-direction & choreography by Matthew Bourne
Performed by Rachel Wallace, Nicolas Dromard et al.
Disney and Cameron Mackintosh with Mirvish Productions
Princess of Wales Theatre, Toronto
November 12, 2011 to January 8, 2012
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

Poppins Production Practically Perfect

The wind blew, the lightening crackled, and a new nanny popped in to the Princess of Wales Theatre on Toronto’s King Street. The Broadway tour of Mary Poppins has arrived in Ontario and, making it even more special, there are a dozen Canadians in the cast. I saw this production of Mary Poppins last Christmas in Detroit and at that time I was delighted to find five Canadians in lead roles. The increased Canadian content thrilled the Toronto audience on opening night November 12.

The plot of this musical production is an improvement over the 1964 movie. We still have the story of the very self-assured nanny, Mary Poppins, who comes into the Banks household to straighten up the bratty Jane and Michael. Their father is a miserable, cold grump and their mother is overwhelmed with trying to improve the situation. Writers have gone back to the original books published in the 1930s and added more magic to the story, which is narrated by chimney sweep and Jack-of-all-trades, Bert. Nicolas Dromard is a wonderful Bert, nearly stealing the show in front family and friends. Originally from Ottawa, Dromard delights the audience with his amazing walk up the wall, then tap dancing his way, upside down, across the proscenium arch, and then walking down the other side.

Blythe Wilson as Mrs. Banks shows the mother’s unhappiness and then brings the character into her own with feistiness by the show’s end. Wilson’s voice is beautiful, and she gives a touching rendition of “Being Mrs. Banks.” She has a lengthy list of credits, most recently playing the Baroness in Toronto’s Sound of Music, as well as key roles at the Stratford Festival. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to see Wilson as Mrs. Banks in Toronto – she leaves this week to go to New York, to take over the role on Broadway.

Wilson and her husband, Mark Harapiak, were looking forward to spending Christmas together at their Toronto home, after two years on the Mary Poppins tour, but she can’t turn down the Broadway opportunity. Harapiak brings comedy to Mary Poppins as the Park Keeper, having great fun with the role. You may remember Harapiak as King Arthur in 2009’s Camelot at Huron Country Playhouse, and also the Broadway tour that came to London’s JLC. As well, he was Coach Bolton in High School Musical in Grand Bend and St. Jacobs.

Laird Mackintosh joined the tour after playing Mr. Banks on Broadway, and has appeared in numerous Toronto shows and at the Stratford Festival. Like Mrs. Banks, he transforms during the show, changing from a wretched, detached father to a much kinder man.

Michelle E. White plays a Caribbean-flavoured Mrs. Correy at the delightful word shop in the park where Mary Poppins and Bert take Michael and Jane to improve their vocabularies. The word of the day is, of course, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious and the ensemble does a lively, choreographed sign language version of it.

Valerie Boyle brings humour to the role of the housekeeper Mrs. Brill. Boyle left the Broadway production to be at home in Toronto. She will be remembered for her performance as Sophie Tucker at Victoria Playhouse in Petrolia.

Janet MacEwen as the rag-tag bird woman shows the wide range of her beautiful voice in Feed the Birds. MacEwen, a long-time star of Canadian stage, moves the audience with her poignant “tuppence, tuppence”.

Other Canadian cast members include Josh Assor who shows off amazing dance skill as Neleus, the statue that comes to life; Eric Coles as the hapless Northbrook whose business benefits from Mr. Banks’ bank; Cory O’Brien who is a policeman and part of the ensemble; Sam Strasfeld who has the difficult job of swing, stepping in for cast members who are off; and young Camden Angelis who alternates in the role of Jane Banks.

Rachel Wallace is indeed, practically perfect as Mary Poppins, playing the proper nanny with just the right mix of primness and mischief. Her final fly across the audience brings cheers and smiles from all.

Mary Poppins is indeed a children’s show, but there is so much going on here – wonderful singing, amazing dancing, colourful costumes, interesting set changes (Bert comes out with his broom to move set pieces, such as the Banks house which resembles a pop-up book, as he narrates the tale) – that adults will also be charmed. Make the trip to Toronto before January 8 when the tour moves on.

Mary Poppins continues at the Princess of Wales Theatre, Toronto until January 8, 2012. Tickets are available www.mirvish.com or call TicketKing at 416-872-1212 or 1-800-461-3333.

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