Look up, it's 'Mary Poppins' at the Hippodrome

In case you're wondering, the title character does fly above the stage of the Hippodrome Theatre in the 2006 Broadway musical "Mary Poppins." Just as there are rather obvious wires making her flight possible, the show itself tends to be obvious.

It works as family entertainment, but it sure dishes out a heaping spoonful of sugar.

Ironically, what's largely missing from this stage adaptation of the 1964 Disney movie is any genuine sweetness. This theatrical production is driven by such relentlessly extroverted acting, singing and dancing that the story's uplifting mesages are delivered in a shrill tone.

It's so aggressively cheerful that even its more tender domestic scenes fail to generate much real emotion. Unlike its title character, this show does not exactly soar.

It fortunately does fly high enough in terms of its set design and overall staging to keep you mildly amused and sometimes even truly engaged.

There's a nice storybook quality to the family's house, which we first see as a flat facade facing the street. The house proceeds to open up like an upright book, and so we get to see the rooms inside.

Another principal locale, a statue-filled park, features some lovely atmospheric effects; and yet other scenes benefit from such colorful costumes and lighting effects that we're transported to a Victorian fantasyland.

Although the clever sets, boisterous orchestral playing and busy choreography sometimes threaten to overwhelm the characters expressing themselves through song, it's such a hyperactive staging that there's certainly plenty to keep your eyes and ears occupied.

There are numerous hectic scenes and choppy transitions that collectively felt like a bumpy ride for this theatergoer, but arguably the show is pitched at children with short attention spans.

The musical score that more or less holds all those scenes together features a mix of familiar songs from the movie and new songs that are pretty much in the same spirit.

There's no denying that children will be captivated by some of these catchy songs, and former children will get a nostalgic rush as they hear several songs live on stage that have been rattling around inside their heads since first seeing the movie starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke back in the 1960s.

Even so, this musical has so many reprises of its best-known songs that it becomes progressively less delightul to hear "Chim Chim Cher-ee" for the umpteenth time in two hours. Likewise, "A Spoonful of Sugar" gets reprised so often that your sweet tooth might start to ache.

The actors dispensing that sugar are technically good within roles that rarely break out of the stereotypical characterizations.

As the nanny named Mary Poppins, Rachel Wallace has a sure command of the role and sings with confidence. Firmly delivering her child-rearing pronouncements with a winning smile, she successfully inhabits this enigmatic character. Although you never really get to know Mary Poppins very well, it's probably just as well that there aren't any explanations for her eccentric behavior and magical powers.

As her chimney sweep friend, Bert, the lean and limber Case Dillard gives such a lively performance that it verges on becoming irritatingly manic. Hey, it's that kind of production.

Most of the other actors seem trapped within their stereotypical characters. As the uptight banker George Banks, Michael Dean Morgan is, well, uptight; and as George's nervous wife, Winifred, Elizabeth Broadhurst is, well, you get the idea.

The child actors playing the Banks' two children, Jane and Michael, are double cast. Cherish Myers and Zach Timson, who played Jane and Michael, respectively, at the reviewed performance brought natural charm to a production that needs all it can get. At least Mary Poppins hovers over children worth caring about.

"Mary Poppins" runs through May 6 at the Hippodrome Theatre, at 12 N. Eutaw St., in Baltimore. Call 410-547-SEAT or go to http://www.BroadwayAcrossAmerica.com.

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