Can it be nearly 50 years since Julie Andrews introduced herself to movie audiences (and Oscar voters) by soaring in, clutching her umbrella and announcing herself as a "practically perfect" nanny?
More to the point: Why has it taken this long for the Disney organization to turn its 1964 hit flick "Mary Poppins" into a musical for the stage?
Perhaps the producers wanted to make certain they had it right, and they very nearly do, judging from the Orange County premiere of the touring version of "Mary Poppins" now in residence at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.
They certainly have filled the title role perfectly. Steffanie Leigh projects that sublime air of sweetness and superiority that earned Andrews the Oscar in her movie debut (after having been passed over for Eliza in "My Fair Lady," the role she created on Broadway). Leigh's Victorian nanny is both gorgeous and mystically crafty, a sort of ethereal being, deftly capable of turning all things right in the end.
She has her work cut out for her. The new children in her charge are a bratty pair — Camille Mancuso and Marissa Smoker share the role of Jane while Talon Ackerman and Tyler Merna divide the part of Michael. Whichever pair performed on opening night, they were strongly effective.
Fortunately, Mary has a little help in the person of chimney sweep buddy Bert (Nicolas Dromard), who assists in the creation of fantasy sequences and keeps the show's pace humming. He also headlines a swiftly choreographed number with his fellow sweepers ("Step in Time") which is quite enjoyable, just as long as you don't care to discern the lyrics.
The kids' parents are particularly well played by Laird Mackintosh as a stuffy banker who's long lost his sense of fun and Blythe Wilson as a cheery lady who's willingly given up a show business career to raise his children. You'll wonder how these two ever got together in the first place.
Where the show runs a bit off the rails is early in the second act when Mary has departed and a new nanny — the "holy terror" Miss Andrew, who was the father's guardian — takes over. The sequence illustrates why the dad is so dour, but serves no further purpose apart from adding a monstrously showy cameo for Q. Smith, who also takes on two other roles.
Moviegoers' favorite numbers, such as "A Spoonful of Sugar" and "Chim Chim Cher-ee," are gleefully retained, along with the ever-popular "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," which touches off a glorious production number helmed by Michelle E. White.
Technical effects are particularly impressive in director Richard Eyre's production. The massive scenic designs of Bob Crowley are highlighted by Howard Harrison's fantasy-tinged lighting effects and Steve Canyon Kennedy's robust sound design. Visually, the show is a huge triumph, the theatrical equivalent of a huge ice cream sundae dripping with chocolate sauce.
"Mary Poppins" may be appreciated by the youngsters, at whom it is aimed, and the older folks who remember the movie with fondness in an adventurous production at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.
TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Daily Pilot.
If You Go
What: "Mary Poppins"
Where: Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturdays, and 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sundays until Aug. 7
Cost: Tickets start at $22.50
Call: (714) 556-2787