Review: ‘Mary Poppins’ at Upper Room Theatre Ministry

Since 2002, Upper Room Theatre Ministry has presented one musical every summer. This year, they bring the stage adaptation of the Disney classic, Mary Poppins, to Manassas. The story of the mysterious and magical nanny, who comes to the rescue of an emotionally struggling family on Cherry Tree Lane was based on the stories of P.L. Travers and made into a family classic in 1964.

Kayleen Nagurny in ‘Mary Poppins.’ Photo by Marisa Michak.

The production includes much of the original music and lyrics, by Richard M. Sherman and Richard B. Sherman, but adds new music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. The book is by Julian Fellowes.

Mary Poppins is a tech-heavy monster of a show, but don’t let Upper Room’s one-show-a-year season fool you. Their production is professional to a T, with a stunning set (design by Pat Haggerty), rigging to make characters “fly” (technical direction by John Sledz and Dan Martin), gorgeous period-appropriate costumes (costume direction by Fran Van de Voorde), and musical numbers complete with show-stopping choreography (Musical Direction by Cathy Drummond and Choreography by Marianna Constable).

Kayleen Nagurny plays Mary Poppins, she suddenly appears out of the fireplace, displaying complete poise and calm, and immediately takes control. Nagurny plays a nice balance of sternness softened by sweetness and has a lovely singing voice, which we get to hear in the well-known “A Spoonful of Sugar” and the not-so-known “Practically Perfect,” where she explains to Jane (Mary Ellen Underwood) and Michael (Dan Jackson) that she is, well, practically perfect in every way.

Underwood and Jackson are magnificent as the rambunctious Banks children, desperate for their father’s affection. They sing the adorable “The Perfect Nanny” advertisement that summons Mary Poppins to their home. The two are all parts innocence, love, and mischief, quickly embracing Poppins’ unusual ways and methods.

The miserable George Banks is acted by Joshua Ewalt. Ewalt plays Banks’ confliction and frustration brilliantly. His character is the most transformed over the course of the show and Ewalt conveyed every step of that path with conviction. This was his show and he brought the realness to George’s character that is necessary to keep him from being seen as the villain.

Stephen Hyland in ‘Mary Poppins.’ Photo by Rich Zavadowski.

The soft-spoken, but dedicated wife and mother, Winifred Banks (Jeanne Myers), plays a slightly different role from the movie original. She is an actress who feels very out-of-place in the world they live in and struggles with “Being Mrs. Banks,” a gorgeously sorrowful song where you get to truly see Winifred’s self-doubt and sadness. Myers looks a little too young for the part but still maintains a strong chemistry with Ewalt and the ups and downs of their relationship are relatable and real.

Bert (Stephen Hyland) is another lead character in the play and he is the same charming jack-of-all-trades from the movies. Hyland guides the audience through much of the story and his high-energy and optimism sets a nice pace and mood for the show.

Speaking of Bert, the highlight of the show would be “Step in Time,” the rooftop song and dance number by the chimney sweeps, led by Bert. The dancing was spot on and daring. Chimney sweeps jumped, leaped, and flipped all the while singing this spectacular number that was up to par with the awe and wonder of the Disney original.

There are many other characters that also make their mark in the story. The ensemble is vast and as equally talented as the leads. Mandy Viles played Miss Andrew, the cruel nanny that haunted George Banks’ childhood. Viles is delightfully despicable with a powerful operatic voice that had the audience on their feet in “Brimstone and Treacle.”

Another stand-out (though underused) actor was Laura Mills as the Bird Woman. “Feed the Birds” is a fan favorite and Mills sang it as a duet with Nagurny’s Poppins. Mills embodied the love and kindness that the song’s lyrics imply, and the two women’s voice blended beautifully.

Smaller roles had many moments to shine, as well. Tyler Williams had some great laughs as the disgruntled Park Keeper. And the Banks’ help, Mrs. Brill (Katie Gorman) and Robertson Ay (Jack Tessier), were a hilarious duo with great comic timing.

Upper Room Theatre Ministry’s Production of Mary Poppins is a complete success, easily seen by the sold-out house and roaring standing ovation at curtain call.

Kudos to the tech team for a smooth run of a complicated show. And every performer was giving 100%. 

The show is a must-see show for locals who like to support live theatre, for families of any age, and adults hoping to revisit a piece of their childhood. I am not ashamed to say, regardless of how corny and predictable it may sound, that Upper Room’s production of Mary Poppins is “practically perfect in every way.”

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission

Mary Poppins, presented by Upper Room Theatre Ministry, plays through July 21, 2019, at the All Saints Performing Arts Center, 9310 Stonewall Road, Manassas, VA. For tickets, go online.