Bass Center for the Performing Arts
Tickets and Info: marypoppins.com/ticket/austin-tx/
The Disney theatrical machine has been rolling out hit after hit in current years, from the gorgeous Beauty and the Beast to the spectacle that is The Lion King, and now their most recent, Mary Poppins, is playing at the Bass Center for the Performing Arts on UT campus. Following the adventures of a magical nanny tasked with taking care of two spoiled, and under-appreciated, rich chidren, the musical is colorful, whimsical, and kid friendly, featuring fun original music as well those tunes you loved from the original film.
Most fans of Mary Poppins will be most familiar with the character thanks to the 1964 film, but before that, the magical nanny appeared in a series of books written by Australian children's author P. L. Travers, and its from this book that much of the action of the play springs. Though a majority of the characters are unchanged, the story still following George and Winifred Banks, their children Jane and Michael, and the practically perfect Mary Poppins, we find the introduction of a few important characters, such as Mary Poppins' villainous foil Miss Andrew, and the phrase saleswoman Ms. Corry. Also, many of the situation you may have loved in the films have changed slightly, such as the walk in the park, which changes from a cafe with penguin waiters to a lovely forest with statuary servants. The changes are minor, for the most part, with the play still going forward in the normal, entertaining way, and culminating in a happy ending for all.
First of all, the production designers are deserving of every bit of praise they can get for this production. The sets are designed in a truly innovative way, not sitting dully in the background as in most production, but rotating and opening like dollhouses, adding to the whimsicality of the piece. Watching the cast members dance and twirl around while moving the sets is a delight, opening set piece up to reveal another new piece of the story. Costuming is also handled well here, harkening us back to another era of history, while at the same time never playing too flashy or extravagant. The one exception to this is the flamboyant Ms. Corry, whose over the top personality more than fits her colorful attire.
The first true character we meet during the play's run is Bert, played with wonderful energy by Case Dillard, whose accent may slip from time to time, but who brings remarkable effervescence to the role. His skills as a dancer are also put to great use here, as he shows some remarkable footwork, particularly in "Step In Time", which finds him dancing on nearly every surface of the stage. Also showing remarkable work here is Rachel Wallace as titular character Mary Poppins, who seems to practically channel Julie Andrews with her performance. Sweet, cute, and utilizing a beautifully clear and dulcet voice, she's sure to charm audience members of all ages. Finally, we have Ben Cherry as Mr. Banks, who for this particular performance filled in for Broadway star Michael Dean Morgan, but from his dynamic performance showed himself more than just a place filler. Though he plays it straight for most of the play, giving a fine performance of "A Man Has Dreams", he truly hits his stride as an actor when he lets his hair down near the end of the play, giving one of the most thrilling takes on Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious in the entire play.
Gather up the family and buy your tickets, for there are only a few more chances to catch this wonder of a show. Colorful, high-energy, and family friend, Mary Poppins is sure to delight Disney fans of all stripes, from 4 to 94. It successfully captures the feel of the ever-popular film, while throwing in enough extra material to keep the piece feeling fresh and new.