Disney pulls out all the stops with "Mary Poppins," a spectacular feast of magic theatricality that opened Tuesday at Orlando's Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre.
Bob Crowley's scenic design includes a beautiful home for the very British Banks family; it's a home that looks hand-drawn and unfolds like a children's pop-up book to deserved gasps of delight. Natasha Katz's lighting design means the energetic cast enjoys a gloriously Technicolor "Jolly Holiday," and the rooftops of London have never looked more appealing at twilight.
There are so many special effects and magic tricks, including Mary's copious carpet bag that can accommodate a hat stand, that by the time Mary flies with her trademark umbrella it's anticlimactic. After all, her chimneysweep pal Bert dances on the ceiling in the biggest showstopper, "Step in Time."
And there are showstoppers aplenty: At one extreme is the raucously candy-coated "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," led by irrepressible Con O'Shea-Creal as Bert. At the other, a heartfelt "Feed the Birds," expertly delivered just on the right side of maudlin by Karen Murphy.
In keeping with P.L. Travers' original Mary Poppins books, the stage show is more serious than the beloved 1964 Disney film although the basic story is the same. The Banks household, led by workaholic Mr. Banks and his eager-to-please wife, has trouble keeping a nanny for young Michael and Jane until magical Mary Poppins comes to town. Not only does she set her young charges on the right path, she teaches the adults a thing or two.
In her books, Travers painted a darker picture of the nanny than movie fans experienced. In the play's title role, Madeline Trumble captures that characterization with a more efficiently brusque manner than Julie Andrews' sunny film portrayal. Unfortunately, on opening night her singing voice was overly shrill and too reliant on vibrato, sinking the lovely lilting quality of songs such as "A Spoonful Of Sugar."
But even a major flaw like that can't sink this spectacle.
Joyously indefatigable, O'Shea-Creal is so full of cheeky high spirits he steals the show out from under the high-flying nanny — and that's long before his dancing feet hit the ceiling. He's joined by top-notch supporting players, including particularly enjoyable turns from Blake Segal and Tregoney Shepherd as the Banks family's put-upon household staff.
The real magic of "Mary Poppins" is that through all the gimmicks, the serious message comes through loud and clear. Little ones might see it as "Be good children, and treat your parents well." But this show is just as much for adults, if not more so. The critical message for them: Remember there's more to life than making money — and that good parenting is the most worthwhile endeavor of all.
• What: Touring version of the Broadway musical
• Length: 2:40, including intermission
• When: 8 p.m. today-Friday, Jan. 11; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 12; 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 13
• Where: Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre, 401 E. Livingston St., Orlando
• Tickets: $41 and up
• Call: 407-246-4262
• Online: BroadwayOrlando.comCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun