“MARY POPPINS,” Utah Shakespeare Festival, through Sept. 3, Randall L. Jones Theatre, 195 W. Center St., Cedar City (435-586-7878 or bard.org); running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes (one intermission)
CEDAR CITY — Just like its title character, the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s production of “Mary Poppins” is “practically perfect in every way.”
Karen Azenberg, Pioneer Theatre Company’s artistic director, directs the production and infuses it with ample doses of whimsy, creating a show that is likely to captivate audiences young and old.
The Banks family of No. 17 Cherry Tree Lane in London are stuck in a rut. Mr. Banks is rarely around, Mrs. Banks feels inferior, and the children, Jane and Michael, repeatedly drive off their nannies through their disobedience.
When it’s time for the Banks family to find yet another nanny, the children write their own advertisement, calling for a “very sweet and fairly pretty” nanny who will “love (them) as a son and daughter.”
Along comes Mary Poppins with her no-nonsense but loving tactics. Mary is just what the Banks family needs, whether they realize it initially or not.
Audiences unfamiliar with the stage musical of Disney’s well-loved film will find expanded storylines and additional songs that add depth to the characters and even more spectacle to the story.
Mr. and Mrs. Banks are given deeper story arcs, and Chris Mixon as Mr. Banks and Susanna Florence as Mrs. Banks grasp hold of the more developed characters and effectively portray each character’s flaws in a way that is immediately relatable.
Elizabeth Broadhurst plays a jovial-but-stern Mary Poppins and exudes a balance of grace, kindness and wisdom, making audiences believe that it is indeed a “jolly ’oliday with Mary.” Broadhurst also had great chemistry with the children, and Mila Belle Howells as Jane and Andrew Barrick as Michael act and sing beyond their years.
Eddie Lopez plays Bert, the perceptive narrator and friend, and is a triple threat, easily handling the demanding choreography, acting and singing required for the role.
The scenery is full of bright colors throughout, and the staging often puts audience members in the thick of the action as kites and even Mary Poppins herself fly above.
Perhaps the production’s only flaw during its opening performance was a failed attempt at audience participation during “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” as cast members entered the aisles and engaged a few children in a dance. However, the moment was rushed, and cast members hurried back to the stage to hit their next marks after only a few moments, leaving children standing in the aisles confused. But with the show’s swift choreography, engaging characters and a visual feast by way of set and costumes, the moment was quickly smoothed over.
Along the way, the actors prove that the show is much more than fluff and high production value. The emotion with which the cast members play their parts is likely to leave audiences pondering lessons of looking deeper than appearances and appreciating others, especially family.
Content advisory: The production is suitable for all audiences, and the minimum age of entry has been lowered to 4 years old for this production only.
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