Monday, August 10, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of St. Gregory's Theatre Group's production of Mary Poppins: The Musical at St. Gregory The Great by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of St. Gregory's Theatre Group's production of Mary Poppins: The Musical at St. Gregory The Great was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Mary Poppins: The Musical 
Director: Amanda Dupuy
Choreographer: Annie Wilkins
Costume Designer: Marjorie Wilkerson
Musical Director/Conductor: Ron Armani
St. Gregory's Theatre Group
St. Gregory The Great 
244-44 87th Avenue
Bellerose, New York 11426
Reviewed 8/7/15 at 8:00 p.m.

Mary Poppins: The Musical is a play based on the similarly titled series of children's books by P.L. Travers and the 1964 Walt Disney movie featuring original music and lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman and a script by Julian Fellowes. New songs and additional music were added by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. Some elements from the books that had been omitted from the film were restored, such as the walking statues and the ladders rising to the stars, while other elements were removed, such as the scene when Uncle Albert gets caught in the ceiling. Cameron Mackintosh's stage adaptation of Mary Poppins: The Musical had its world premiere at the Bristol Hippodrome starting with previews from September 15, 2004, before officially opening on September 18th for a limited engagement until November 6th. The production then moved to the Prince Edward Theatre on December 15, 2004, making it the only Disney musical to have premiered in the United Kingdom. The production closed on January 12, 2008 after a run of more than three years. Following the success of the West End run, a Broadway production debuted on November 16, 2006 at the New Amsterdam Theatre after previews from October 14th. In 2007, Mary Poppins: The Musical was nominated for 7 Tony Awards, winning for Best Scenic Design. This production closed on March 3, 2013 after 2,619 performances and over six years of being on Broadway. 

In the Director's Note, Amanda Dupuy tells us what she feels is the message of this musical. Ms. Dupuy writes, "This wonderful version of the Mary Poppins story allows us to have a deeper look into the Banks Family. Mary Poppins takes us not only on a journey of magic, but a journey of compassion. No person is less important than the next, which Mary reminds us with such characters as the Bird woman and the Chairman. Mary may have tricks up her sleeve to get the children into tip top shape, but she works the most on reminding the parents what love is all about. She acts as a reminder that family will always be more important than money and material possessions. This musical may be set in 1910 but its message is even more relevant now. In this new world we live in where technology has become our closest relationship, Mary shows us that stepping out of our comfort zone will allow for more growth, knowledge and excitement into our lives. This story reminds us to never lose our inner child and always take care of the ones we love."

Bert, a man of many trades, introduces the audience to Number 17, Cherry Tree Lane where the Banks family lives: George and Winifred, their two out-of-control children, Jane and Michael; and their staff, the cook, Mrs. Brill, and the odd-job man, Robertson Ay. George Banks Esq., who literally works as a loan officer in a bank, has very old-fashioned ideas about his role in the family. It is his view that nothing domestic has anything to do with him. He does not wish to be interrupted by his children and expects the nanny to keep them busy and under control so he can work. His wife, a former actress, wants to please her husband and tries very hard to fulfill the job of being "Mrs. Banks," which in George's view involves "doing charity work and entertaining." When asked by Winifred what his job is, George responds, "to pay for everything." Winifred would like to be more of a partner to her husband, sharing both the good times and the bad, but George believes that sharing his feelings and spending more time with his children would exhibit a weakness in his character and undermine his role as head of the household. His own nanny, Miss Andrew ("The Holy Terror") beat out of him all childish notions he may have once had to study astronomy or fly a kite. As he readily admits, "having a strict nanny made me the man I am today," which, in the context of the musical, is not considered a good thing. 

Jane and Michael, having just caused another nanny to quit, write a proposed advertisement regarding the qualities they would like to see in their new nanny. George tears up the paper and throws it into the chimney, but somehow Mary Poppins immediately shows up with the children's paper in hand applying for the job. She apparently "blew in on the wind" with the goal of fixing this dysfunctional family. She is very demanding, telling Winifred what days she wants off and telling George she never explains anything. She later walks off her job without notice and after returning, she refuses to promise she won't do the same thing again. Mary Poppins is also extremely egotistic, telling everyone she is "practically perfect in every way from head to toe" and seems to have no problem liberating Miss Andrew's lark from his cage even though it is not her property. On the plus side, Mary Poppins does help Jane and Michael be less judgmental regarding how Bert and the Bird Woman look, and she does help George and Winifred repair their marriage and rediscover how they can become a loving family. But on the negative side, what is the source of the magic Mary Poppins uses on the children to enable them to sleep and to see impossible things like Neleus, a talking statue with a father, or Ms. Corry, an enigmatic, ageless woman, who runs a shop where she sells words. One might suspect Mary Poppins is using hypnotism on the children and Miss Andrews, or else giving them mind-altering drugs. She has even convinced the children she can bring their toys to life.

St. Gregory's Theatre Group put in a tremendous effort to make this production a success. Over forty actors volunteered countless hours of their time to bring this musical to life. I applaud each and every one of them for providing the audience with a fun-filled night of entertainment. Six of the actors stood out as superior performers in my book. In the major roles, I particularly enjoyed the over-the-top, high-flying characterization of Mary Poppins by Meghan Gratzer, and the excellent portrayal of the relatively shy and uncertain Winifred Banks by Melissa Jillian Corona. Although both staff members in the Banks household were played by actors too young to have been working there when Miss Andrew was George's nanny, I thought they were both top-notch actors who performed their roles well. Hannah Pipa successfully portrayed both the frustration and the compassion of Mrs. Brill. In the script, when no one rsvp'd yes to the Tea Party being thrown by Winifred Banks, she asked Mrs. Brill if she thought they chose the wrong day, and Mrs. Brill honestly responds, "No ma'am. I think you asked the wrong people." Thomas Laskowski was a shining star on stage in his dual role as Robertson Ay and the Park Keeper. Mr. Laskowki is a talented actor with a very charismatic stage presence. He has a great future in the theater. Lori Ann Santopetro was very believable as the Bird Woman exhibiting the voice of an angel, and Deanna Mayo had fun with her role as Mrs. Corry and as Neleus. Both deserve special recognition for bringing these minor characters into the spotlight. Marjorie Wilkerson did a wonderful job as Costume Designer and Annie Wilkins exhibited extraordinary talent as a choreographer, especially during "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" and "Step In Time," the two blockbuster numbers in the musical.

Mary Poppins: The Musical will continue to play at St. Gregory The Great through August 16, 2015. Tickets cost $18.00 for adults; $15.00 for Seniors; and $7.00 for Kids (12 & under). There is no better entertainment value you can get for your money. But be forewarned that concession prices are a bit high - for example, $3.00 for a single hot dog! To purchase tickets, call 718-989-2451 or visit the St. Gregory's Theatre Group's website at After seeing this show, you will leave with the good advice that "anything can happen if you let it" and that "anything is possible as long as you get out of your own way." A final warning! Your mouth may, without notice, open in amazement when watching this production of Mary Poppins: The Musical. At that point, remember what your grandmother may have said to you when you were but a wee lad or lassie, "Shut your mouth! We are not a codfish!"

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