Mary Poppins the character is practically perfect. CPCC Summer Theatre’s “Mary Poppins” is not. It has the solid bones of a winner, with a familiar score, a charming cast, and all the costuming and scenery of a full scale Broadway production for a fraction of the price.
But in this case more is less. Rather than thrill and amaze, the elaborate set designs lead to awkward scene changes, which lend unnecessary length to an already long production. It’s as though a roomful of creatives wrote down every good idea they could think of and then couldn’t bear to eliminate a single one. It would benefit from a ruthless editor with a red pen.
If you don’t know the story … It is early 20th-century London, and there’s trouble at No. 17 Cherry Tree Lane. Mr. Banks is hardhearted, Mrs. Banks is failing to climb the social ladder, and Jane and Michael Banks have driven away a succession of nannies. It’s the perfect challenge for Mary Poppins, whose signature line is “anything can happen if you let it.”
Lucianne Hamilton has the looks and the cadence of Julie Andrews’ Mary Poppins. Intentional or not, it works, and she is delightful. Allison Rhinehardt is an effective Mrs. Banks, hapless yet sympathetic, and she has a lovely voice. Katlyn Gonzalez plays daughter Jane and that girl can belt out a tune.
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Michael Bingham is Bert, the chimney sweep who welds the play into a contiguous story. He is humble, omnipresent, and if there are Guardian Angels on rooftops, he’s leading their choir. Lisa Smith Bradley’s rendition of “Feed The Birds” is terrific.
The best ensemble productions are “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and “A Chimney Swept.” Both are enthusiastic, with Dorothy Drigger’s fantastic costuming, extravagant in the former, and cohesive with tap shoes in the latter.
“Jolly Holiday” is the scene where Mary Poppins introduces the children to her rendition of games in the park, and it is just weird. The park statues come alive, and they are strange and off-putting, and wear creepy costumes. Likewise, “Playing the Game,” added to the show to replace “Temper Temper” in 2009, is an uninspiring song that’s supposed to teach bad children a lesson.
Robert Croghan’s sets are beautiful. There are just way too many of them. A backdrop of the London Bridge is lowered too often, sometimes for just a minute. The children’s nursery awkwardly transforms into a rooftop, after its doors are closed and it is cumbersomely rotated by stagehands. Sometimes a backdrop is raised and a new set is gracefully revealed. Other times the whole boxy Cherry Tree Lane house is pushed on the stage and then slowly opened with no subterfuge.
Likewise, the flying apparatus has limited effectiveness. When Mary Poppins first lands with her parasol, the audience watches as her harness is removed. You can’t maintain the willing suspension of disbelief when it’s never suspended.
Mary Poppins is one of the best-loved fictional characters on the page and the stage. CPCC’s Summer Theatre cast is bursting with talent. A less fussy production would spotlight this show’s strengths.