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“Mary Poppins” is Practically Perfect – Review by Carol Moore

**** Recommended **** Drury Lane Theatre’s production of Disney and Cameron Mackintosh’s “Mary Poppins” is even more “practically perfect”. Sure, “Mary Poppins” is still dispensing “A Spoon Full of Sugar”, but there are also new songs and scenes and even technical derring-do. This is a Broadway quality musical; and yes, Mary Poppins does fly! This is a perfect show to introduce your children and/or grandchildren to live theater. Don’t miss “Mary Poppins”, it’s one of my top ten musicals of the year. 4 BIG Spotlights

Jane (Grier Burke or Nicole Scimeca) and Michael Banks (Hunter DiMailig/Sebastian Merlo) have just driven another nanny to resign. Their mother, Winifred (Alexis J. Roston), is worried about what their father will say.

Meanwhile, Bert (James T. Lane), chimney sweep, artist and jack of all trades, quietly sings “Chim-Chim-Cher-ee”. As he confides his concern about the goings-on in the house on Cherry Tree Lane, he greets Miss Lark (Iris Lieberman) and her dog, then bows to the ever prompt Admiral Boom (Bret Tuomi).

George Banks (Matt Crowle) orders Winifred to advertise for a new nanny. Trying to be helpful, Jane and Michael write their own advertisement, but their father tore it up. As if by magic, the children’s ad appears in the hands of Mary Poppins (Emilie Lynn).

Up in the nursery, Mary Poppins amazes the children as she pulls things she needs – including a hat stand – out of her bag. On their very first outing in the park, a statue of Neleus (Alejandro Fonseca) comes to life and talks to the children. While Bert sings about a “Jolly Holiday” with Mary, other statues including Queen Victoria (Lieberman) come to life.

Back home, Winifred is bustling around trying to prepare for her party, but actually getting in the way of Mrs. Brill (Catherine Smitko) and Robertson Ay (Sawyer Smith), who have everything well in hand. Upon their return home, Mary Poppins doses the children with “A Spoonful of Sugar”. Mrs. Brill is beside herself worrying about the cake when all the cupboards/counters fall apart – at least until Mary Poppins marches in and puts it all right. Sadly, no one came to the party so Winifred felt like a failure.

The next morning, the household revolves around George, who preaches “Precision and Order”, before going off to work. When Mary Poppins takes the children on an outing to their father’s bank, they see the Bird Woman (Catherine Smitko) outside selling crumbs to “Feed the Birds.”

On another outing, Mary Poppins takes the children to Mrs. Corry’s (Harriet Nzinga Plumpp) fascinating shop to buy some letters. Mary Poppins assembles some miscellaneous letters the children chose, using some more than once, adds a couple she chose, and comes up with a special new word. “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” had the audience clapping and singing along. The choreography was very cool, too.

Meanwhile, at the bank, George Banks decided to refuse to give a loan to Von Hussler (Nathan Mittleman), a man with a suspicious scheme, instead granting one to Mr. Northbrook (Brian M. Duncan), who wanted to build a factory. Because the competition was making money from Von Hussler’s scheme, Banks was suspended.

When he gets home, after George yells at everyone, the children run to the nursery and start fighting. The wind changed direction and the children aren’t ready to learn so Mary Poppins abruptly left the Banks home.

Since George often cites the excellent methods his nanny used to raise him, Winifred tracks her down. Miss Andrew (Holly Stauder), a thoroughly unpleasant sort, arrives with a caged lark and a lot of attitude. She believes in dosing children with “Brimstone and Treacle”. When George gets home from work and sees Miss Andrew, he runs screaming from the house. The children run away, ending up in the park, where they fly a kite with Bert, who sings “Let’s Go Fly a Kite”.

After Mary Poppins returns and routs Miss Andrew, she leads the children up to the roofs where Bert and the chimney sweeps are singing “Chim-Chim-Cher-ee”, followed by “A Step in Time”, a spectacular tap dance number that brought down the house.

Some observations:
• According to my friend Helen, Emilie Lynn looks just like Julie Andrews!
• Matt Crowle (Mr. Banks) played Bert in several previous productions of “Mary Poppins”
• Iris Lieberman (Miss Lark, Miss Smyth, Queen Victoria) told me she had more costume changes than she had lines!
• Footman Robertson Ay (Smith) has gained a personality and some comic chops as he mugs his way through the show – he even shakes when Miss Andrew screeches
• In the kitchen, Mary Poppins picks up plates one by one from the floor and Frisbee throws them to Jane, who managed to catch every one!
• The set is framed with books. London backdrops are projected onto open books on the backdrop. Neleus’s plinth turns out to be a pile of books.
• At the Banks home, everything – the staircase, the beds in the nursery, the kitchen cabinets and so on – all roll into place
• The bank employees dance teller booths into place
• This version of “Mary Poppins” doesn’t end with “Let’s All Fly a Kite”

“Mary Poppins” runs through January 19th at Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace. Parking is free, valet is also available. Running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes, with an intermission. Performances are Wednesdays at 1:30 pm; Thursdays at 1:30 and 8:00 pm; Fridays at 8:00 pm; Saturdays at 3:00 and 8:00 pm; and Sundays at 2:00 and 6:00 pm. Tickets range from $60-$75. FYI (630) 530-0111 and www.drurylanetheatre.com.

Read all of Carol Moore’s reviews at www.spotlightonlake.com