Saturday, November 26, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of Mary Poppins at The John W. Engeman Theater at Northport by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Mary Poppins at The John W. Engeman Theater at Northport was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Mary Poppins
A Musical Based on the Stories of P.L. Travers & The Walt Disney Film
Original Music & Lyrics by Richard M. Sherman & Robert B. Sherman
Book by Julian Fellowes
New Songs & Additional Music & Lyrics by George Styles & Anthony Drewe
Co-Created by Cameron Mackintosh
Directed & Choreographed by Drew Humphrey
Musically Directed by Michael Hopewell
Scenic Design by Jason Simms
Costume & Wig Design by Kurt Alger
Lighting Design by Zach Blane
Sound Design by Laura Shubert
Props Design by Kristie Moschetta
The John W. Engeman Theater at Northport
250 Main Street
Northport, New York 11768
Reviewed 11/26/16

Here she comes to save the day! The east wind and mist indicate the arrival of Mary Poppins, the practically perfect Nanny who mysteriously arrives at the home of George and Winifred Banks in response to a ripped up letter setting forth the qualities the children, Jane and Michael, would like their new Nanny to possess. Despite the fact that Mary Poppins has answered an ad that was never placed and has no references, Mrs. Banks, out of need and insecurity ("all the best families don't require references"), hires Mary Poppins, who dictates what days she wants off, takes it upon herself to leave without notice, and makes it perfectly clear she "never explains anything." It appears to me that Mary Poppins, possibly an ageless, vain goddess with supernatural powers (Neleus' father Poseidon was a friend of hers and it is likely she was Bert's Nanny when he was younger) represents the fresh breeze of the 20th century that comes demolish the stale, strict gender roles of the Victorian era and to bring the Banks family closer together with the belief that if only you maintain your childlike innocence and spirit of adventure, anything can happen if you let it!

Bert, a jack of all trades ("they told me to be a success in life, I should learn a trade, so I learned all of them"), finds joy in all he does and, despite being an adult, he too can speak to animals. Both Mary & Bert agree that speaking to Mongrel dogs is the most difficult ("far too much slang"). They join Jane & Michael in the park where they imagine statues coming to life and visit with Mrs. Corry, who runs a shop where you can buy letters and words, in addition to gingerbread. Before Miss Andrew ("The Holy Terror") beat all childlike notions (such as his love of astronomy) out of his mind, little Georgie Banks would slip away and visit Mrs. Corry (who may be older than anyone in the world) specifically saving the gingerbread stars he bought from her. Criticized by Jane Banks for making up words (like "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious"), Mrs. Corry responds, "where do you think words came from in the first place - someone had to make it up." Unfortunately, the strict Miss Andrew made George Banks, as well as the Bank President, the men they are today (not considered a good thing in this musical). Spending time with your family, treating your spouse as an equal partner in life, and showing your children love are valued higher in this play than simply making money and leaving domestic matters (like hiring a Nanny, doing charitable work, and entertaining) to your wife. In fact, the ultimate success, according to Mary Poppins, is helping the Banks family reach a point where a Nanny is no longer necessary or required. It is at that point she feels she needed to make her exit and "help" some other family in need.

Analisa Leaming makes the perfect Mary Poppins - self-assured, pretty, and confident. She brings brightness and light to the stage, which is the exact opposite of Miss Andrew, who represents the philosophy that if you spare the rod, you will spoil the child. Her potion of punishment is Brimstone and Treacle, while Mary Poppins' potion can taste like Strawberry Ice (or Rum Punch if you are an adult). Jane Blass is marvelously sinister and evil in the role, gliding along the stage and threatening to immediately send Michael Banks off to boarding school. The potion battle between the two of them is perfectly staged. Ms. Blass also shines as Mrs. Corry, giving her a chance to play someone good, as well as someone relatively "evil" in the same show. Luke Hawkins is a talented, charismatic actor who plays Bert with a strong stage presence every much Ms. Leaming's equal. The two of them carry the show with the help of a fine cast. Deserving of particular recognition is David Schmittou and Liz Pearce, who play George and Winifred Banks, respectively. They both bring substance and depth to their characters and you become emotionally engaged in their respective struggles. Linda Cameron is excellent as Mrs. Brill, and Danny Meglio puts in an exceptionally strong and impressive performance as Robertson Ay. Perhaps not getting the recognition he deserves, Charles Baran (recently crowned Prince Charles at the Beaux Arts Society's 110th Annual Beaux Arts Ball) plays Admiral Boom, the Park Keeper, Poseidon, and the Bank President. Each performance is so unique and so perfectly executed, you wouldn't know the same actor was playing all those parts unless you read the program. Mr. Baran makes a great contribution to the success of this production.

The two crowd-pleasing big production numbers are "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" and "Step In Time." The audience could not help themselves and clapped their hands in time with the music. Also impressive are "A Spoonful Of Sugar," "Precision And Order," "A Man Has Dreams," "Feed The Birds," "Chim Chim Cher-ee," "Let's Go Fly A Kite," and "Anything Can Happen." Some of the memorable lines from the show are when Robertson Ay said, "I want to be helpful" to which Mrs. Brill responds, "We'll, I'd like to be rich but the Good Lord thought otherwise."; When Mrs. Banks (who used to be an actress) finds out all those she invited to a party rsvp'd no, she asks Mrs. Brill if she chose the wrong day. Mrs. Brill responds, "No Ma'am. I think you chose the wrong people."; Both Mary Poppins tells Michael, and Mrs. Banks tells George, "Close your mouth. We are not a codfish."; and Mary Poppins who emphasizes "I never said I was fair. I said I was practically perfect" often enlightens people by reminding them, "In this - as in so many things, your information is faulty." In the end, Mary Poppins flies back into the heavens having taught the children to be less judgmental, to look past what they see, and to have respect for people, as well as inanimate objects.

If you can't get to 17 Cherry Tree Lane in London and Mary Poppins hasn't visited you lately, I highly recommend you go see her at The John Engeman Theater at Northport before December 31, 2016. Performances are Thursdays at 8:00 p.m., Fridays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Some Wednesday and Sunday evenings are available. Tickets are $76.00 on Saturday evenings, $71.00 all other performances and may be purchased by calling 631-261-2900 or by going online at And remember, if you only reach for the stars, you may get them, but if you reach for the heavens, you get the stars thrown in! 

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