Bowie Playhouse audiences who attend 2nd Star Productions' musical version of "Mary Poppins" should expect to find a brisker nanny and edgier Bert than they may be used to.
The lead characters in this fine production are also likely to prove more relatable to contemporary audiences than those in the 1964 film version with Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. Of course, that version won the hearts of countless fans, as well as capturing five Academy Awards including Best Actress for Andrews and Best Visual Effects.
This musical version opened on Broadway in 2006, and clearly inspired 2nd Star director Fred Nelson and producer Gene Valendo. This duo proves they are up to the challenge of bringing this special-effects-heavy musical to the Bowie Playhouse stage.
With extraordinary professionalism on stage and backstage under Nelson's sharp direction and Andrew Gordon's choreography, the cast delivers on drama, singing and dancing.
Smartly accompanied by a 15-piece pit orchestra and music director Sandy Melson Griese, the performance was bright on opening weekend — despite musicians' enthusiasm sometimes overshadowing the singers. That's an issue unlikely to remain in subsequent performances.
Light and sound designer Garrett Hyde creates astonishing effects operated by designer Brian Douglas and producer Valendo. Together, they create magic on stage and throughout the theater.
Character authenticity is enhanced by2nd Star's award-winning costumer Linda Swann, who has created more than 100 Edwardian-era costumes here. Individualized makeup and hair design, plus stunning hats, are supplied by Sascha Nelson.
For this production, set in 1910, 2nd Star's president Jane Wingard, a multi-awarded scenic designer, creates credible and inviting informal gardens and an outdoor area surrounding the Banks family's residence at 17 Cherry Tree Lane. Also presented are the home's opulent upstairs and downstairs rooms.
Nelson excels at casting ideal actors for every role, especially the iconic Mary and Bert. He also encourages this broad, skilled cast of 48 to summon an array of disparate views, adding color and richness to the story. Through dialogue and music, the action moves briskly.
Perhaps more than almost any other roles, Mary Poppins and Bert were defined in the 1964 film by Andrews, the creamy-voiced perfect nanny, and Van Dyke, the incomparable song and dance charmer. This legendary pair has owned these roles for half a century.
Here, "Mary Poppins" joins talented brother and sister Nathan Bowen as Bert and Emily Mudd as Mary — performers who excel in conveying more contemporary aspects of the characters.
Local favorite Bowen shines in vocal numbers and matches Van Dyke's dancing. He keeps up with Gordon's brilliant choreography while delivering an edgier Bert who is more sophisticated than the film version.
Meanwhile, Mudd compares favorably both vocally and dramatically to Julie Andrews. She makes every musical number her own, and expertly conjures up magic — such as retrieving full-sized furnishings from her travel bag.
She also creates a 21st-century Poppins who is brisker and less maternally protective than Andrews' portrayal. This more independent nanny actually disappears for a period — leaving the Banks children to cope on their own.
The children, Jane and Michael, are charmingly realized. Sophia Riazi-Sekowski, a rising ninth-grader at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, is a skilled vocalist whose delight in being onstage as Jane Banks is contagious. Michael Banks is played with charm and impressive vocal talent by Nathaniel Burkhead, a sixth-grader at George Washington Middle School in Alexandria, Va.
George Banks, played by John Dickson Wakefield, is a struggling husband and father more interested in his bank job than in his family, until major problems at his job provide important new insight.
Winifred Banks is deftly played by Mary Schmidt Wakefield, a former actress uninterested in hosting tea parties for the "right people," and longing to replace her children's nanny with her own loving care.
The 2nd Star production of "Mary Poppins" continues at through July 1 at Bowie Playhouse, 16500 White Marsh Park Dr., Bowie. For ticket information, call 410-757-5700 or 301-832-4819 or go to 2ndstarproductions.com.