‘Mary Poppins’ at Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center by Amanda Gunther


Wanted: a nanny for two adorable children, one who will play games, all sorts, and take them on outings and give them treats, sing songs, and bring sweets. The advertisement has been answered as Disney and Cameron Mackintosh in conjunction with ‘The Hippodrome Broadway Series’ presents the Tony Award-winning hit musical Mary Poppins.

Directed by Richard Eyre with new songs from George Stiles and Anthony Drewe – this musical sensation is perfect for a family outing. It’s a picturesque step into a story book with all of the classic songs from the movie, some new twists, great new characters, and amazing sights to be seen. You’ll tap your toes along with all the merry-making and be amazed as Mary Poppins comes and goes with her magical umbrella.

Rachel Wallace as Mary Poppins and Case Dillard as Bert. Photo by Deen Van Meer.

Scenic and Costume Designer Bob Crowley brings the magic to this production with his boundless creativity. 17 Cherry Tree Lane literally unfolds like a ginormous dollhouse, the walls spreading apart to reveal a full three story house inside. The house set provides ample opportunity for Mary Poppins to show off her mysticism with a simple snap bringing the lights on and off. Crowley infuses whimsical elements in the rooftops with chimney pipes that shoot people up and down as well as billowing smoke that unfurls into the night. But the house’s interior and exterior is not the only explosion of genius from Crowley’s mind. The romp in the park is transformed into an exuberant explosion of colors; flowers every shade of the rainbow shooting toward the sky with an inviting endless path leading down the backdrop. These enchanting scenes create a wonderful warm and inviting play space for the actors to enjoy themselves; a signature Disney production if ever there was one to be seen.

Crowley, doubling as the Costume Designer, creates the epitome of our high-spirited nanny just as we all remember her. She arrives in her heavy traveling cloak with her telltale umbrella and looks every bit the jolly woman audiences expect her to be. Her long coat comes in brilliant blue, vibrant purple and roaring red giving her an ever-edgy style to her practically perfect nature. Crowley invents vivacious costumes for the ensemble, especially the zany childlike costumes for the toys in the Bank’s bedroom. These outfits scream wonderland in that joyous celebratory way, truly inviting the audience into the fairytale world of Mary Poppins.

The choreography in this show is second to none. We see incredible feats of large ensemble numbers executed to perfection, compliments of Choreographer Matthew Bourne and Dance Captain Elizabeth Earley. The ensemble is the most lively ensemble to take the stage all season at The Hippodrome by truly showing the audience just how much fun they’re having in these numbers.

During “Jolly Holiday” the statues, led by Neleus (Benn Atkin) leap and flounce about the stage in merriment with the other denizens of the park, pausing to pose in their natural form amid umbrella twirling and soft-shoe tapping. The big finish to that number involves the whole cast marching in perfect unison as one. We see more of this perfect unison in Bourne’s design for “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” The entire ensemble bursts into spontaneous movement with a magnificent energy, heightened to that of a confetti canon explosion. They move in perfect harmony with one another, using their full bodies to spell out the word in a round of faster and faster paced choruses. But the dance scene that takes the cake is the full ensemble tap number witnessed in “Step In Time.” This number with its impeccable execution of a highly complex but flawless tap routine makes everyone want to be a chimney sweep.

Rachel Wallace, Tonya Thompson, Case Dillard and the Company of 'Mary Poppins.' Photo by Deen Van Meer.

This storybook adventure wouldn’t be quite complete without some highly unusual characters, one of which is the villainous Miss Andrew (Q. Smith.) ‘The Holy Terror’ storms the stage inspiring pure fear and utter loathing in the Banks’ children. Smith is practically belching the fires of hell in her solo song “Brimstone and Treacle” so much so that the house literally begins to quake with fright. A petrifying performance designed to scare even the most grown up of people in the audience.

Then of course we have Mr. Banks (Michael Dean Morgan) and Mrs. Banks (Elizabeth Broadhurst), The patriarch and matriarch of the Banks household, this duo struggles to discover themselves throughout the show. Morgan is a stunning example of a proper English father. He ignores his children in favor of his business, has an astute nature to every move he makes, and his words are over- articulated and well-spoken. During his solo “A Man Has Dreams” he is unperturbed and marches to his own strict drum. Broadhurst is a sweet and docile creature by comparison and has a pure and clear singing voice, demonstrated best when singing “Being Mrs. Banks.” Morgan and Broadhurst grow to be the perfect married couple by the end of the production and fit their roles equally well.

Of course we wouldn’t have need for a nanny if we didn’t have naughty children to look after. Jane (Cherish Myers) and Michael (Zach Timson) are the spitting image of the rascally youngsters from the movie, chasing each nanny out of the house with their maddening pranks. The pair is received as rather bratty and obnoxious when singing “Perfect Nanny” but quickly change their tune upon the arrival of Mary Poppins. Timson is vividly expressive when in a snit or voicing his incorrect information. Myers is much more reserved in her vocalizations but has a very excitable energy to her character especially when enjoying the chimney sweeps during “Step In Time.” These two adorable young actors are extremely talented and powerful and make being the Banks children a cinch.

Our story would not be a story without a narrator of sorts. This enormous task is taken up by Bert (Case Dillard.) Painter by day and chimney sweep by night this versatile character keeps the audience on their feet with surprise after surprise. Dillard sets the mood for mysterious and enchanting when he first rises out of his chimney pipe at the beginning of the show, a smile on his soot-darkened face and a tune in his happy heart. He shows off his fancy footwork in “Chim Chim Cher-ee (Reprise)” and again in “Step In Time” leading the chimney sweeps in a phenomenal dance number. Dillard is an engaging actor who in this number gets so caught up in showing off his spirited passion for the profession that he literally goes up and over the rooftops! He aspires to the perfect blend of a cockney accent that’s still widely understandable to all and manages to capture the heart of everyone whose hand he shakes for luck. When he sings his darkened lullaby in “Chim Chim Cher-ee” his voice is hauntingly harmonious, half in shadow and half in light, letting the words drift from his tongue like a dream. Dillard has exceptionally subtle chemistry with Mary Poppins (Rachel Wallace) and manages to make every moment he’s on stage truly magical.

Case Dillard as Bert and the Company of 'Mary Poppins.' Photo by Deen Van Meer.

Our title character takes the cake in this amazing show. Rachel Wallace becomes the one and only Mary Poppins with a flourish of perfection, a snap of sensational singing and a shining spirit so bright that she could easily outshine the sun. Her mellifluous voice floats to the ears of the audience like a celestial harp, each song more beautiful than the last, filled with sweet emotion and powerful meaning. When she arrives you can sense the magic crackling from her fingers. With her enormous, endless travel bag she continues to produce magical moment after moment of fun-loving delight for the children. “Spoonful of Sugar” has never been more delectable, and when she sings “Practically Perfect” you are lost in her melodious sound. Wallace embraces the characters affectations with a flare and charm so enchanting that you’ll wish she was your nanny.

During “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” she leads the ensemble in a wondrous chorus, keeping her whole body in constant motion to spell out the precociously nonsensical word and her brilliant smile never leaves her face. Of course the real magic truly begins when Mary Poppins takes to her magic umbrella and flies. Wallace delivers an unforgettable performance as the magical nanny that is not to be missed this year.

So if you’re ready for a ‘Jolly Holiday,’ or have dreams of walking with giants, or perhaps you’d just like to release your inner child and go fly a kite, then it’s time for you to step in time and step on down to the Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center and see Mary Poppins  – before this practically perfect production pops out of town.

"Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious." Photo by Deen Van Meer.

Mary Poppins plays through May 6, 2012 at the Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center – 12 North Eutaw Street, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call (410) 547-7328, or purchase them online.

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