Broadway World Review: A Practically Perfect MARY POPPINS At The Engeman

Broadway World

November 30, 2016

Melissa Giordano

 

Having a long run on Broadway from 2007 to 2013, it is safe to day that any incarnation of Mary Poppins will not disappoint even the most devoted fans. One thing is sure; this still remains one of the most popular tales to this day as confirmed by the enthusiastic, nearly sold out audience at the John W. Engeman Theatre in Northport. The iconic story’s musical adaptation, now playing through January 1st at the gorgeous Long Island venue, features an exceptional and spirited cast.

When attending the staged version – The Engeman’s wonderfully directed and choreographed by Drew Humphrey– you will see that it does not completely mirror the familiar 1964 P.L. Travers/Disney movie at several points. In typical fashion, things are added/taken out/expanded/moved around. Let me tell you, though, that the outstanding cast gets everything right.

Superbly leading the talented company is Broadway vet Analisa Leaming as Mary Poppins. As we know, things at the Banks household go awry at first when the mysterious and magical Mary is employed as a nanny for the Banks children. She and Mr. Banks – a very controlling man – have a difference of opinion in how to handle things like discipline; and they each don’t like to compromise much. It takes time for them to get on the same page but Mary, of course, ends up helping them become a closer unit.

Luke Hawkins portrays Bert, a jack-of-all trades who has known Mary for quite some time. Mr. Hawkins and Ms. Leaming are a fantastic team having many performances together in The Sherman Brothers score (with additional songs, music, and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe). Indeed, their great chemistry makes them well received. A rousing round of applause abounds particularly for “Step in Time” and the classic “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”.

Also highlights are the children, Katherine LaFountain and Chris Mckenna, who portray the mischievous but well-meaning Jane and Michael Banks. They are in many of the numbers and are impressively on point throughout the show. Additionally, Liz Pearce, another Broadway vet, is excellent as Mrs. Banks. One of her performances, “Being Mrs. Banks”, is heartbreaking telling about the difficulties of her marriage to an overbearing husband.

On the creative team, scenic designer Jason Simms admirably delivers. The moveable pieces and flying sequences are enhanced stunningly by Zach Blane‘s lighting and Laura Shubert’s splendid sound design. Additionally, devout fans will be very pleased with Kurt Alger’s costumes as they well adhere to the movie incarnation. There is also a remarkable orchestra headed up by Musical Director Michael Hopewell.

It is no surprise, really, that Mary Poppins is ideally achieved at the John W. Engeman Theatre. While some may have argued that the material is not “practically perfect”, my advice would be to see this production “spit spot” as a top notch cast and creative team – and an iconic story – make for a delightful night of theatre.

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Mary Poppins is presented at the John W. Engeman Theatre of Northport, Long Island, through January 1st, 2017. For more information and to purchase tickets, please call (631) 261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

Based on the stories of P.L. Travers and the Walt Disney film, Original Music & Lyrics by Richard M. Sherman & Robert B. Sherman, Additional songs, music, and lyrics by George Stiles& Anthony Drewe, Book by Julian Fellowes, Produced by Richard Dolce, Directed & Choreographed by Drew Humphrey (Engeman Theater: Thoroughly Modern Millie, A Chorus Line, et. al.), Musical Direction by Michael Hopewell (NYC: Once We Lived Here (U.S. Premiere), Billy Bishop Goes to War). Scenic Design by Jason Simms, Costume & Wig Design by Kurt Alger, Lighting design by Zach Blane, Sound Design by Laura Shubert, Casting by Gayle Seay and Scott Wojcik of Wojcik/Seay Casting, Props Design by Kristie Moschetta, Stage Management by Sean Francis Patrick

Starring Analisa Leaming (Broadway: The King and I, On the Twentieth Century), Luke Hawkins (Broadway: Xanadu, Cirque du Soleil, Banana Shpeel), Liz Pearce (Broadway: Billy Elliot; National Tours: Little Shop of Horrors, Jesus Christ Superstar, Seussical); David Schmittou (Engeman: A Christmas Story); Katherine LaFountain, Chris Mckenna, Matthew Baker, Charles Baran, Luca Bergin, Jane Blass, Chris Brand, Linda Cameron, Samantha Carroll, Dena DiGiacinto, Sophia Guarnaschelli, Alicia Hemann, Becky Grace Kalman, Sophia Kekllas, Oren Korenblum, Ben Russell-Lynch, Suzanne Mason, Meaghan Cinnes, Danny Meglio, Courtney Moran, Peter Surace, Bronwyn Tarboton, Moore Theobald, Michael Verre, and Jacqueline Winslow

 

Read online: www.broadwayworld.com/long-island/article/BWW-Review-A-Practically-Perfect-MARY-POPPINS-At-The-Engeman

The Observer Review: Uplifting flight into Northport for Mary Poppins & company

The Observer

November 24, 2016

David Ambro

 

What Julie Andrews brought to the iconic role of Mary Poppins in the 1964 movie version, Analisa Leaming brings to the role in the production that opened at the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport last week.

Mrs. Leaming, who was swarmed by the children of the cast when she arrived at the cast party after the opening-night performance Saturday, November 19, is the perfect Mary Poppins. She looks the part and boy can she sing.

During a pre-performance interview, Ms. Leaming said Mary Poppins is a “big sing” for her, and it is a sing in which she comes up big. She has an angelic voice with great range that allows her to capture the spirit of Feed the Birds and the excitement of A Spoonful of Sugar and Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

Much the same can be said for Luke Hawkins as Bert, Mary Poppins’ lighthearted and magical chimney sweep sidekick. Bert is a role made famous on the screen 52 years ago by Dick Van Dyke, and it is a role made unforgettable by Mr. Hawkins on the Engeman stage with his rendition with the ensemble of Step in Time, a tap-dance spectacular that was an audience and cast favorite.

Described in a word, this show is uplifting.

“I think it turned out beautifully,” said director and choreographer Drew Humphrey during an interview after the press-night show Saturday, November 19. Asked about his favorite part of the show, Mr. Humphrey thought for a short moment, and like many other chose the tap-dance extravaganza Step in Time.

“It is a story that everyone can relate to. Everyone has experienced some problems when they come home to their family and it is not working right and I think this show does a wonderful job of telling people that dealing with their problems is not impossible.”

Mr. Humphrey said there are high expectations when you take on a show like Mary Poppins. “Whenever you are dealing with source material that is iconic as this is, there is a pressure to do it justice. If you stay true to it and approach it honestly and approach it with love, you set yourself up for success,” he said.

David Schmittou, who plays George Banks, the strict and high-strung father of the children in Mary Poppins’ care, is a veteran of the Engeman stage, having performed in A Christmas Story. During an interview after the show Saturday he said he loves the Engeman Theater and has a fondness for this show, having performed Mr. Banks twice before.

“I love this show,” he said. “I think it is a great story. I’ve loved the story since I was a kid and saw the movie.”

“It is my second experience at the Engeman and I think it is a fantastic experience,” said Mr. Schmittou, who resides in New Jersey. “It’s great, and I think that the story had such an appeal to me as a kid but as an adult is also has appeal to me too because of the family dynamic and the stage show.”

Mr. Schmittou said the favorite part of his role was fixing the family, when he comes out of his stern character at the end and celebrates the Banks coming together as a family unit. It’s a fun scene, where he kicks up his heels and breaks into dance with Bert.

“The family drops the walls that are going up and comes together as a family,” he said. “Mary Poppins heals the family. I don’t want to give too much away for anybody who hasn’t seen it, but it is about the family.”

Although he is not on stage for it, Mr. Schmittou said his favorite part of the show is Step in Time. “I stand in the wings and watch it every night. That is truly a show stopping number,” he said.

“If my wife and I were season ticket holders here and we came to see this show, the first thing we would do is call my brothers and sisters and say get all of the children, nieces and nephews, and take them to see this show,” said theater owner Kevin O’Neill. “That’s what this should be. This is a family show if ever there was one.”

“It’s not a Christmas oriented show, it’s not a holiday show, but overall it’s a show for family that’s tough to beat,” Mr. O’Neill said. “We’re bringing our booster seats out, because the little ones are coming.”

Katherine LaFountain, of Bayport, who plans Jane Banks, one of the children in Mary Poppins’ care, said it has been inspirational to work with Ms. Leaming. “She has done things on Broadway and she is a great role model for me,” Katherine said.

“I think it went very well, and I love this show so much,” Katherine said.

Like many of the others, Katherine said Step in Time is her favorite part of the show. “It is the most beautiful thing to watch and I love tap-dancing,” she said. “So, it’s so fun.”

Christopher McKenna, of Syosset, who plays Michael Banks, said he is really excited to be in the cast because it is his first big role. “My favorite part is Perfect Nanny because it’s me and Jane’s song. I just loved it because it’s our first big scene,” Christopher said.

While Step in Time was a show stopper and an audience favorite, another audience favorite, mine as well, is Feed the Birds, a duet by Ms. Leaming, as Mary Poppins, and the Bird Woman, played by Suzanne Mason. Although this is her only song in the show, Ms. Mason makes it something very special with her angelic voice that shines in concert with Ms. Leaming.

While Step in Time and Feed the Birds are audience favorites, Mary Poppins at the Engeman captures, with great authenticity, the iconic classics in this magical fairy tale. It’s a must see, another stellar example of how the Engeman brings Broadway to Main Street.

For tickets, visit the box office at 250 Main Street, Northport, call the box office at 631-261-2900 or order online at engemantheater.com.

 

 

Times of Huntington-Northport Review: ‘Mary Poppins’ is the spoonful of sugar we all need right now

Times Beacon Record

November 23, 2016

Melissa Arnold

 

Sometimes, looking at life through a child’s eyes again makes everything better.

That’s exactly the opportunity you’re given in “Mary Poppins,” which kicked off a six-week run at the John Engeman Theater in Northport this week. And boy, is it a treat.

The Engeman Theater has a reputation for pulling out all the stops for its shows, and “Mary Poppins” definitely reaps those benefits with a stunning, colorful background, detailed scenery and a cast of seasoned professionals, many of whom spent time on Broadway.

Directed and choreographed by Drew Humphrey, this show is a Disney classic, with all the heartwarming moments and magical touches you’d expect. Set in early 1900s London, “Mary Poppins” gives a glimpse into the lives of the wealthy Banks family — workaholic husband George, his doting wife Winifred and their adorable-yet-mischievous children, Jane and Michael.

Try as they might, the Bankses can’t seem to find a nanny who will stick around – it might have something to do with the kids’ constant pranks and stubbornness. But Jane and Michael meet their match when Mary Poppins shows up from who knows where. Without any negotiation, she invites herself into their home and begins to work some real magic. Along the way, she introduces them to a host of quirky, mysterious characters that teach them about what’s really important in life.

The story’s unofficial narrator is Bert (Luke Hawkins), a charming chimney sweep with a deep affection for Mary Poppins and the Banks children. Hawkins will have you smiling the minute he takes the stage, and his appearances will tug on your heartstrings throughout the show. His tap dancing skills in “Step in Time” will leave you breathless. Mary Poppins is played by Analisa Leaming, a newcomer to the Engeman stage with several Broadway credits under her belt. Leaming plays Poppins with all the poise and grace the role demands, with lovely, light vocals even on the highest notes. She also deserves a nod for the slight-of-hand tricks she performs throughout the show, maintaining character even during a rare moment when her props won’t cooperate.

Katherine LaFountain and Christopher McKenna play the Banks children with endless enthusiasm and joy. Both have an obvious love for the stage and there is nothing forced about their performances. You’ll fall in love with them both during “The Perfect Nanny” and “Practically Perfect,” two examples of their fantastic teamwork.

The special effects in “Mary Poppins” are what make the show truly great. Children in the audience might actually believe that Mary’s bag can fit anything, that she can instantly make sandwiches from a loaf of bread, or that she can even fly. Seeing her take flight with that famous umbrella is the highlight of the show.

The show’s set can rotate, expand and retract, which allows for easy transitions between several unique locations. The background is perhaps the most eye-catching element, however, with the London sky in silhouette and a colorful, illuminated sky that can create sunsets, nightscapes and even some psychedelic schemes.

Many of the supporting cast members are also worth a mention. In particular, George Banks’ childhood nanny Miss Andrew (Jane Blass) commands the stage during her brief performance. She has so much swagger and authority that when she’s called “the holy terror,” you’ll believe it in an instant. Also, the “bird woman,” played by Suzanne Mason, delivers a performance of “Feed the Birds” that’s both touching and haunting.

The ensemble has a huge role to play in “Mary Poppins.” Whether they’re seamlessly helping with set changes as chimney sweeps, tap dancing or serving as any number of whimsical creatures, they are an essential part of the show and every bit as talented as the lead actors. In fact, their performance in “Supercalifragilisticexpialadocious” and “Step in Time” are among the most impressive of the entire show. The two children’s ensembles, which will rotate throughout the show’s run, should be commended for their hard work and flawless routines.

While the band isn’t visible or credited at any point in the show, they do a flawless job in presenting songs from the original movie as well as many that were written for the stage version. Under the direction of Michael Hopewell, the band consists of keyboard, bass, drums and a variety of woodwind and brass instruments.

All told, “Mary Poppins” is exactly the joyful, inspiring tale so many of us seek out during the holidays. While it’s not a holiday-themed production, the theater is beautifully decorated for the season, and you can enjoy the occasional Christmas song and a festive drink at the piano bar before showtime.

Take a few hours this holiday season to leave your cares behind and gather the family for a night of laughter. You’ll be glad you did.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present “Mary Poppins” through Dec. 31. Run time is approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes with a 15-minute intermission. Ticket prices vary from $71 to $76. To purchase tickets, call 631-261-2900.

Read online: www.tbrnewsmedia.com/mary-poppins-is-the-spoonful-of-sugar-we-all-need-right-now/

 

Smithtown Matters Review: MARY POPPINS

Smithtown Matters

November 21, 2016

Jeb Ladouceur

 

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/

DC Metro Theater Arts Review: ‘Mary Poppins’ at The John W. Engeman Theater

DC Metro Theater Arts

November 21, 2016

Kristen Weyer

 

Everyone’s favorite high-flying nanny has landed at the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport! Mary Poppins will be playing until the wind changes on December 31, 2016. The script, based on both the books by P.L. Travers and the 1964 Disney movie, was written by Julian Fellowes, whose repertoire also includes Downton Abbey. Directed and choreographed by Drew Humphrey, Mary Poppins is sure to delight audiences of all ages.

The endearing storyline of Mary Poppins is a familiar one to most of us. The Banks family requires a nanny for their two rambunctious children, but gets more than they bargained for in Mary Poppins. She proceeds to not only take care of the children, but to fix the entire family. Few, besides the very young, have not heard of the magical flying nanny who can fix any problem with a “Spoonful of Sugar” and a spit-spot!

Intriguingly, the underlying tone of this play is slightly darker than its movie predecessor. The members of the Banks family are here portrayed as realistic people with actual, serious problems. While previously, Jane (Katherine LaFountain) and Michael (Christopher McKenna) were merely attention starved children with an unfortunate penchant for mischief, here they are frequently selfish and rude.

Mr. Banks (David Schmittou) who we all knew as distracted and overworked, is now a truly angry man wounded by the scars of his own childhood. Also is our lovable, if air-headed suffragette, Mrs. Banks (Liz Pearce). In her place is a competent, intelligent woman struggling with her desires to be a caregiver to her own children, and how to best help a husband who doesn’t see what she is capable of. Don’t let this alarm you. What this does is add a substance to the plot that wasn’t there before. If anything, the added solemnity makes for a more heartwarming ending as we see the journey they were on to become a true family, as she sings in the very moving “Being Mrs. Banks.” Not to worry, all of your favorite aspects are still present, dancing penguins included.

And then there is scene-stealer Jane Blass, as the very scary and hilarious Miss Andrew, who wreaks havock as she tries to replace Mary Poppins. Her showstopping “Brimstone and Treacle.”

The cast does marvelously in every aspect. The talented ensemble twirls, taps, and sings their way through number after number with never flagging energy. Analisa Leaming is the perfect Mary Poppins, as we hear from her opening number “Practically Perfect.” Her beautiful voice and on-point characterization are everything you hope for from the iconic flying nanny.

Luke Hawkins makes a charming Bert, and brilliantly performs an impressive tap number during “Step in Time.” David Schmittou and Liz Pearce have a nice chemistry together, portraying believable emotion and giving the audience a couple worth rooting for. Katherine La Fountain and Christopher McKenna both impress as Jane and Michael. They are each fantastic young actors with delightful voices. An added comedic bonus are the household servants Mrs. Brill and Robertson Ay, humorously played by Linda Cameron and Danny Meglio.

The cast are certainly not alone in deserving accolades. With his practical, yet whimsical set design, Jason Simms adds to the fun and magic of the plot.  Likewise, Kurt Alger’s stunning and intricate costume designs continually impress.

The band, under direction from Michael Hopewell, beautifully performed tunes both familiar and new. While each recognizable song was eagerly anticipated, the unknown newer pieces were also very enjoyable. In fact, along with classics from Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman such as “A Spoonful of Sugar” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” come a whole cluster of new songs. Written by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, the new additions to the score will have you humming all the way home.

With its soaring melodies, enthusiastic dances and ultimate messages of love and perseverance, Mary Poppins is a must see for the whole family.  It reminds us that “anything can happen if you let it.”

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.

Mary Poppins plays through December 31, 2016, at The John W. Engeman Theater at Northport – 250 Main Street, in Northport, NY. For tickets call the box office at (631) 261-2900, or purchase them online.

 

Read online at: www.dcmetrotheaterarts.com/mary-poppins/

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