Review: ‘Mary Poppins’ at Encore Stage & Studio

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Encore Stage and Studio presents Disney and Cameron Mackintosh’s Mary Poppins, with original music and lyrics by Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman and Book by Julian Fellowes, and new songs and additional music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. Aztec Show Trax L.L.C. does the music for this particular production, with music direction by Galina Tarasova. An ambitious undertaking for Encore Stage & Studio, this fully-fledged Broadway adaptation is packed with show-tune favorites. As Mary Poppins herself would say, it’s “practically perfect!”

(Jane), (Statue), (Mary Poppins), (Bert), and Michael. Photo by Larry McClemons.

Brenna Kay (Jane), (Statue), Kaely Clapper (Mary Poppins), Brian Metcalf (Bert), and (Aidan Pritchard) Michael. Photo by Larry McClemons.

Technical Director Kristen Jepperson designed a number of sets for this show, the main one being the expansive, elegant interior of the Bank’s family manor. A grand staircase sits aside a fireplace, atop which is a fine (and dare I say, almost imposing) oil portrait of the family. Tidy, proper, and trim, the set reflects the tone of the family itself, led by strict patriarch George Banks, who runs his home as if it were a military barracks. This formal atmosphere is also seen in the children’s spic-span nursery and the marble-columned bank where George works.

The sets take a turn, however, in the presence of Mary Poppins. Her imaginative spirit leads way to scenes set in a vibrant park filled with bold, bizarre flowers, and a colorful market filed with peculiar people and things. The contrasts in these sets are great, and the intricate details and dressings add a lot of character.

Lighting Director Gary Hauptman has some cues to iron out and sharpen, but the slip-ups were very minor, and didn’t detract much from the overall experience. Sound Engineer Drew Moberley did a fine job–microphone feedback is a common issue with mic’d actors, but I didn’t hear a single issue. The dialogue was crisp and clear and the vocals were never drowned out by the music.

The contrasting themes are also seen in the costumes and make-up by Debra Leonard. While the Banks family wears crisp formal attire, Mary Poppins’ quirky friends wear pieces such as colorful boas (and even more colorful wigs!) The technical elements of this production are solid and sound, but the main attraction here is flight, directed by Jim Clancy. Mary Poppins can be seen several times flying over the stage with her umbrella, and Brian Metcalf (Bert) does some impressive mid-air flips during the crowd-favorite number “Step in Time.”

Director Susan Alison Keady leads a large ensemble (thirty total!) in this production, alongside Assistant Directors and Choreographers Sarah Conrad and Kelsey Meiklejohn. The cast has a vast age range and work together beautifully, no doubt the result of proficient guidance and instruction.

Kaely Clapper is fine as Mary Poppins, playing her with a lofty, airy quality that exudes both regality and a bit of mischief. When the bratty Banks children (Brenna Kay and Aidan Pritchard as Jane and Michael Banks) scare away yet another nanny, Mary Poppins mysteriously arrives on their doorstep in the number “Practically Perfect.” She soon wins over the children with her carpet-bag full of tricks (there is some clever set-maneuvering here) and kind disposition. However, it becomes clear that the Banks children need a lot of work.

Over-regimented by their strict, emotionally distant father (a delightfully haughty performance by Erich Izdepski), the children act out both at home and when Mary introduces them to her friends. Slowly circling and eyeing chimney-sweep Bert (playfully played by Brian Metcalf), they declare that he is “dirty and common” and at first resist his company. It’s a good thing that they caved and went to the park with him, because the number  “Jolly Holiday” has lots of fun group choreography! Later, when they meet a walking, talking statue named Nelus (Nicholas Boone), they argue with him about reason and logic instead of enjoying his company.

Mary Poppins has quite a few lessons up her sleeve. After the children meddle in the kitchen and make a horrible mess, she has them clean up after themselves in the memorable song “A Spoonful of Sugar.” The bouncy and fun “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” lets the kids have some much-needed silly fun, while “Playing the Game” teaches them to respect their belongings after some mishandled toys confront them about their behavior (I’m not going to lie, this number was a bit eerie– kids under the age of six may be a bit spooked by it).

Despite these lessons, the Banks children are difficult pupils, and Mary Poppins finds herself frustrated, proclaiming, “There’s nothing so hard to teach as a child who knows everything.” When she decides to let the children learn things on their own, the characters find themselves in a tense situation.

Anita Tellez-Mansey is great as the put-upon Mrs. Brill, constantly bickering with the dopey servant Robertson Ay (Liam Clancy). Meghan Mack gets a lot of laughs as Miss Andrews, a harsh nanny nicknamed “The Holy Terror,” and steals a scene with her warbly number “Brimstone and Treacle.” Mack really hams it up with this role, and her efforts were rewarded during curtain call, where she received some of the loudest applause.

"Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious." Photo by Larry McClemons.

“Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” Photo by Larry McClemons.

My favorite vocals in the show came from Kristen Jepperson as Winifred Banks, George’s lonely wife dealing with feelings of inadequacy and neglect. Jepperson gives a lot of emotion with this character, and her melancholy song “Being Mrs. Banks” is the shows most poignant moment.

There is an awful lot going on in this production, and I’ll warn you now that younger children may have a hard time sitting through the lengthy first act. Make sure everyone is settled in nice and snug before the curtain opens.

Encore Stage & Studio’s  production of Mary Poppins boasts a talented cast, catchy songs, and thrilling effects. This is a family must see! It only runs for a week, so hurry up an catch a performance before the wind carries her away!

Running Time: Approximately two and a half hours, including one 15-minute intermission.

MaryPoppins 2016 DCMTA (1)

Mary Poppins plays through July 24, 2016 at Encore Stage & Studio performing at Thomas Jefferson Community Theatre – 125 South Old Glebe Road, in Arlington, VA. For tickets, call (703) 548-1154. You can also purchase tickets at the door or order them online.

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