A show that’s “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” on every level.
There has never been a nanny quite so magical – or musical – as Mary Poppins, a character created by author P.L. Travers in eight books written from 1934 to 1988.
But, there was a hint that a magical experience was in store when an usher handed me the Showbill for 2nd Star Productions’ production of Disney & Cameron Macintosh’s Mary Poppins at the Bowie Playhouse.
Crisply designed and well laid out, the hefty booklet was one of the best programs I’ve leafed through in this area. There wasn’t much time to analyze it, though. The show began promptly and, within minutes, an enchanted world unfolded.
This Mary Poppins show is the version of the popular musical that opened on Broadway in 2006 and ran through 2013.
Right off the bat – er – umbrella, this is a stunningly incredible production from a company already well-known for its over-the-top shows. Directed by Fred Nelson and choreographed by Andrew Gordon (a Benedict Cumberbatch look-alike), 2nd Star’s Mary Poppins has a cast of 46 – many playing multiple roles, plus a lively orchestra of 15 musicians, including Conductor Sandy Melson Griese, the music director.
The behind the scenes crew was just as large, and it must have taken a moving van to hold all the beautiful period clothing by costumer Linda Swann, and head-turning hats by Sascha Nelson, who also designed the characters’ hair and makeup.)
The stage didn’t seem like it would be big enough to accommodate all those actors, especially with the orchestra pit carving out a hole at the front of the stage. But, it did, and, throughout the show, the back of Griese’s blonde head could be seen bobbing in time with the rousing score performed by her hidden musicians.
This Mary Poppins is a must-see. The singing, dancing, costumes and special effects are on a level rarely seen in this area. The cast contains a score of high-kickers that rival the Rockettes, including its tall, rubber-limbed choreographer.
The show is, verily, “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”
Set in 1910, Mary Poppins opens with the wry, knowing, congenial Bert (Nathan Bowen) standing on a London Street, not far from the home of the Banks Family at 17 Cherry Tree Lane, singing “Chim Chim Cher-ee.” Vocally and in his dance movements, this Bert proves to be an adept challenge to the legacy of Dick Van Dyke, who played a similar role in the 1964 Disney movie.
A passerby holding a dog-puppet named Willoughby stops to gossip with him about the latest Banks drama. Nannies don’t seem to stay long at the Banks’ household. They’ve been through six nannies in four months. Another one has just quit, storming out of the house and frightening the servants Mrs. Brill (Penni Barnett) and Robertson Ay (Davis Wooten-Klebnaoff), who think they will be stuck watching Jane Banks (the terrific tween vocalist Sophia Riazi-Sekowski) and Michael Banks (sweetly charming Nathaniel Burkhead, also a good singer).
It’s hard to imagine the kids were the reason Katie Nanna (Victoria Rose Brown) decamped.
As the story progresses, the parents have issues. Michael Banks (Nathaniel Burkhead) was raised by the abusive nanny Miss Andrew (the operatic Alexa Haines), known as The Holy Terror – and she is. George (John Dickson Wakefield) is cold, emotionally distant, seemingly disinterested in his family and preoccupied with his work at a bank. There are issues with the Bank Chairman (Thom Eric Sinn) over some loans he handled.
His wife, Winifred Banks (Mary Schmidt Wakefield) “married up” and is still struggling to be accepted by her husband’s class of people. George makes it clear that she is never to return to her déclassé job as an actress, but is, instead, supposed to learn how to host a proper tea party for high society ladies – who reject her overtures. He turns away when Winifred bends to kiss his check.
George directs Winifred to “find the best possible nanny at the lowest possible wage.” When the children counter with their own list, winsomely singing “The Perfect Nanny,” George crumples their list and tosses it in the fireplace. It disappears.
There is a cloud of special sound and visual effects (designed by Garrett R. Hyde and operated by Brian Douglas and Gene Valendo, plus video techs Darrell Hale and Fred Nelson). And. Poof! Mary Poppins appears. She’s “popped in” on the wings of the East Wind.
She will “pop out” when the wind changes.
Unlike most of the “normal” characters, who are garbed in understated tones, Mary Poppins (the multi-talented Emily Mudd) wears a vibrant, electric blue overcoat. The bold red flowers on her hat match the ruby shade on her lips.
Mary Poppins is holding the kids’ crumpled list and ticks through it, singing “Practically Perfect” with the children. It’s the first time the audience hears Emily Elizabeth Mudd’s strong, clear voice – they are smitten.
Emily Mudd, a Calvert County librarian who has appeared in musicals around the region, is outstanding in this role. She portrays Mary Poppins as a kind, caring soul who provides a strong mother figure for the children she nannies. While loving and nurturing, she ensures her charges are simultaneously learning how to clean up after themselves, take responsibility and discover the joy of flying a kite.
Her method is “A Spoonful of Sugar,” in contrast to the Holy Terror’s “Brimstone and Treacle.” (Though the two nannies, side-by-side, create an amusing duet.)
The sets, designed and painted by 2nd Star Production’s President and Co-Founder Jane B. Wingard, are works of art, depicting a London street, park lands, and several Victorian-era rooms. With human and mechanical help, the scenes whisk on and off the stage. Plus, this show has a mind-boggling array of props and tchotchkes – including an, ahem, self-cleaning kitchen and a “how did she do that?” cake.
Mary Poppins unpacks in an upstairs bedroom.
The audience knows what comes next is a magician’s sleight of hand. But it is amazing to watch the stuff that Mary Poppins pulls out of a bag the kids have already searched and found empty: a hat rack, a giant leafy palm tree, a large mirror, a dress form.
Mary Poppins, accompanied by Bert, Jane, and Michael, head to the park for an enchanted outing to the strains of “Jolly Holiday.” (Bet you know the words.)
There, the children meet several intriguing characters. One of the most dynamic is the bronze statue Neleus, son of the god Poseidon. Portrayed by Tyler White, the statue comes alive as an athletic, balletic dancer who turns the stage into his personal Elysian Fields.
Central to the staging throughout the show are the eight Wisps who, wearing hooded views and ethereal robes, whisk other actors or props on and off the stage before blending into the ensemble (Robbie Dinsmore, Jeremy Hanson, Creedence Jackson, Steve Mangum, Eric Meadows, Nicholas Mudd, Jan Venderweit, and, yes, Tyler White.)
At several points during the show, the onstage action spills into the theater, surrounding the audience with song, joy and rustling, twinkling costumes. Heads in the audience bob and bounce, hands clap in time to “A Spoonful of Sugar,” “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”
This show, a recreation of a childhood tale, is a delight that has remained as upbeat and vibrant as when Julie Andrews first captured America’s hearts – and the Best Actress Oscar – 53 years ago.
(Have you heard? Disney is revving up a sequel to the original Mary Poppins movie. Mary Poppins Returns, starring Emily Blunt as the nanny with co-star Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator and star of Hamilton, the Broadway musical hit. It is scheduled for release on December 25, 2018.)
2nd Star Productions’ highly entertaining and swashbuckling Mary Poppins is a show for all ages. Run, don’t walk, to get tickets.
Running Time: Two hours and 55 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.
Mary Poppins plays through July 1, 2017, at 2nd Star Productions performing at The Bowie Playhouse – 16500 Whitemarsh Park Drive, in Bowie, MD. For tickets, call (410) 757-5700, or (301) 832-4819, or purchase them online.