Review: ‘Mary Poppins’ by Glyndon Area Players

“Anything can happen if you let it” isn’t just the watchcry of the rosy cheeked heroine of Mary Poppins, currently dazzling audiences at Sacred Heart’s Glyndon Area Players. It would also seem to be the motto of GAP Founder/President and production director Homero Bayarena. 

Katie Sheldon, Stephen Strosnider, and cast in ‘Mary Poppins.’ Photo by Bethany Nusbaum and Katelyn Nellies.

Bayarena and his team transform Sacred Heart’s gymnasium into a venue with first-class lighting, sound, and production design. GAP’s combination of talent onstage and behind the scenes is completely on par with the glorious Baltimore Rock Opera Society; a level of production where community theatre transcends professional because no budget could ever buy the passion, dedication, and sheer volunteer manpower invested in its excellence. GAP productions need to be put on your “Must See” list.

Mary Poppins is the whimsical, family-friendly tale of a magical nanny who visits the Banks Family of Cherry Tree Lane, London. With a “spoonful of sugar,” she provides the medicine to turn their lives around “in a most delightful way.” (Some have even theorized that Mary Poppins existed in the Harry Potter Universe!) In 2004, Cameron Mackintosh commissioned this West End adaptation of Disney’s 1964 Oscar-winning movie, with additional music by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, and a book by Julian Fellowes. The team incorporated most of the original music by The Sherman Brothers, as well as new elements of source material from the books by P. L. Travers.

That means, for better and worse, the musical is not exactly what you might expect from the beloved childhood movie. The book muddies a practically perfect story of Mr. Banks’ transformation from workaholic chauvinist to carefree father and husband. On the other hand, it delivers some delightful new surprises: a trippy, Willy Wonka-esque store for new words and conversations (give you one guess what word is created there); a legitimately nightmarish confrontation by abused and neglected nursery toys; and a wickedly fun anti-Poppins named Miss Andrews (played by an appropriately shrill Samantha Ulick).

Katie Sheldon lights up the stage in the iconic title role of Mary Poppins. She gives a Broadway-caliber performance, and true to character, is never to be outdone whether singing operatic soprano notes, tap dancing, or literally taking flight. Stephen Strosnider is equally charismatic as Bert the chimney sweep, demonstrating triple-threat skills and a clownish physicality. Cameron Casey and Suzi Eldridge keep the play grounded in reality as Mr. and Mrs. Banks, a couple facing some real-life social and economic difficulties.

Two standouts of the show are Jane and Michael Banks (played alternately by Sophie True, Ian Jones, Emily Signor, and Bailey Gomes). Unlike the angelic children of the movie, these Banks children begin the story far from “practically perfect,” which gives them plenty of room to grow into more conscientious young people. Their journey keeps the show poignant and engaging from start to finish. Other scene stealers include the incredible dancer Joe Love as Neleus, Raph Paredes as a precocious Park Keeper, and amusing actress-puppeteer Colleen Esposito as Miss Lark and Willoughby.

Katie Sheldon, Stephen Strosnider, and cast in ‘Mary Poppins.’ Photo by Bethany Nusbaum and Katelyn Nellies.

Bayarena’s set (co-designed with Rose Mooney and Michael Parks, and Scenic Artists Ava Ertel, Corinne Ertel, Lily Ertel, and Meredith Faid) is extensive, and scene changes are choreographed to flow like magic. His costumes (co-designed with Kari O’Donnell and Susan Zepp) received spontaneous applause upon the entrance of Mary Poppins and Bert in their nostalgic “Jolly Holiday” attire. Music Director Sterling Grey presides over a flawless 11 piece orchestra, which is perfectly balanced with the voices (Sound Design by Charles Hirsch), particularly in one chill-inducing moment when the choir begins to sing from the back of the house during “Feed The Birds.” Jim Shomo’s sophisticated lighting exceeds the wildest expectations of a gymnasium venue. Choreographers Cecelia DeBaugh, Lucy DeBaugh, and Maia DeBaugh strike all of the right chords in the big songs, especially a tap-dancing “Step In Time.”

It is no exaggeration to say GAP’s Mary Poppins might be the best production of the show you will see in the region. For 22 years, they have been pouring their time and resources into pulling out all the stops for one summer show, so be sure to mark your calendar now for whatever is planned for year 23.

Running Time: Approximately three hours, with an intermission.

Mary Poppins plays through this Sunday, August 11, 2019 by Glyndon Area Players performing at Sacred Heart School Auditorium, 63 Sacred Heart Lane, Glyndon, MD. For tickets, go online.