November 21, 2016
Sooner or later, it seems, every theatrical organization gets a crack at ‘Mary Poppins’—and now through New Year’s Eve, it’s The Engeman’s turn. Actually the timing couldn’t be more fortuitous for locals, because with the exception of ‘A Christmas Carol,’ (currently playing its standard holiday gig forty minutes east in Port Jefferson) the whimsical story of the magical nanny created on film by Julie Andrews might be the perfect show for kids of all ages during the holiday season!
If that sounds like overstatement, theatergoers simply have to see the enchanting Analisa Leaming for themselves. If ever a stage actress was perfectly cast as the ultimate au pair, it’s Leaming!
We all know the story immortalized by the 1964 Disney movie … governess-type Mary Poppins shows up at the privileged London home of little Jane and Michael Banks, where she wows the obstreperous children by introducing them to amazing chimneysweeps, mind boggling shopkeepers, dancing statues, and other unforgettable characters who quickly win the youngsters’ hearts.
The film about kids largely denied affection by their father (a la ‘Sound of Music’) was a natural for the stage, thus it opened on Broadway in 2006 … and ran there for seven years!
Granted, ‘Mary Poppins’ is not a jolly holiday show in the manner of ‘White Christmas’ or Dickens’ classic story fashioned around old ‘Ebenezer Scrooge,’ but it’s an appealing tale of childhood whimsy nonetheless, and as such, the narrative qualifies as an appropriately festive offering at this celebratory time of year.
Mary is named ‘Poppins’ because she just shows up magically from time to time—that is to say, she just ‘pops in’—get it? And though she’s the undisputed star of the show, ‘Bert,’ the wonderful singing, dancing Chimneysweep, who essentially is the musical’s narrator, complements the dazzling Mary expertly with clever and revealing dialogue. In fact ‘Bert’ (Luke Hawkins) delivers one of the most spot-on lines in the play when he tells Mary, “You’re a sight for sore eyes.” Because Leaming sure is, folks! The slender, statuesque woman is absolutely gorgeous, and it’s difficult to imagine any young lady looking better in an Edwardian outfit. Those stunning turn-of-the-20th century walking suits and high-button shoes seem to have been designed with Analisa Leaming in mind.
Striking, too, are all of the ensemble’s colorful pastel costumes designed by Kurt Alger. Mary stands out, of course, in her red, blue, white, or black outfits (she seems to change every ten minutes or so), and even the drab clothing of the dowdy ‘Bird Woman,’ (so poignantly interpreted by Suzanne Mason,) is appropriate in its dreary contrast to the leading lady’s finery.
The starring children in this play are ‘Jane and Michael Banks,’ played by Katherine LaFountain and Christopher McKenna. They are on stage virtually non-stop, and do a fine job in their taxing roles. One notable youngster, who appears less frequently, is Sophia Eleni Kekllas. She plays a come-to-life doll named ‘Valentine.’ Sophia exhibits all the tools necessary for future stardom; indeed her superb stage presence is obvious despite her brief role and tender years. Someone has guided the gifted child’s early career with first-rate insight.
There are two magnificent production numbers in this endearing musical, and they are entirely different in style and execution. One is the tongue-twisting ‘Super-cali-fragilistic-expiali-docious,’ (hyphens added here) which is skillfully sung, and cleverly choreographed with colorful alphabet blocks. The other is ‘Step In Time.” It’s a show-stopping piece wherein ‘Bert,’ ‘Mary,’ and the ‘Banks Children’ join fifteen ‘Chimneysweeps’ in a rousing, perfectly timed tap dance extravaganza.
If there’s anything not to like in this Drew Humphrey-directed show, I don’t know what it would be. Maybe a few encores could be added. That would have delighted the sold-out crowd who stood and cheered last weekend … as Mary Poppins flew down from the midnight London sky with her umbrella … and took her well-deserved bows.
Read online at: www.smithtownmatters.com/long-island-theater/