Jun 142015
 
By Sarah Amador
photo by Eric Chazankin

photo by Eric Chazankin

Did you grow up believing in the magic of Mary Poppins? I did. Most of us have grown up with the story. I still know most of the movie songs; my son knows them too. My mother and I liked Mary Poppins so much that we went to see Saving Mr. Banks, the movie about the Disney movie. Even my teaching style is patterned after Mary’s carpet bag of tricks. For most of us, young and old, she’s in our hearts.

Recently, my son and I went to see the Broadway musical Mary Poppins at the Spreckels Performing Arts Center in Rohnert Park. I would say the play was supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, but that’s the word you use when you don’t have the words to describe something, and I do—it was brilliant! If you didn’t get to see this musical based on the children’s books by P. L. Travers and the 1964 Disney film, then don’t fret. Audiences loved it so much that Spreckels is bringing it back for six encore performances, from August 21st through August 30th. If you go, you’re in for an additional treat because the summer youth camp students will join the big dance numbers of Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, Step in Time, and Jolly Holiday.
MaryPoppins_3

photo by Eric Chazankin

From the moment we entered the sold out performance, my son and I could feel electricity in the air. I kept wondering, how on earth would they create the marvel of Mary Poppins on stage? Soon the live orchestra began playing the familiar score, the curtain went up, and the play began. The Banks’ children, played by Andi Luekens and Nicholas Sevier, delivered their lines admirably, not overdone, as can happen often with child actors. Their singing was beautiful, and they kept their accents going throughout the play. Plus, they looked just like the kids in the movie! I don’t know why this made me happy, but it did.

When Mary Poppins arrived on stage, the real magic began. Heather Buck played Mary Poppins, and was truly “perfect in every way,” including having perfect pitch and singing like a songbird. I recognized this actor from the recent production of Bonnie and Clyde at 6th Street Playhouse. She had stood out for her spot-on acting and singing.
MaryPoppins_2

photo by Eric Chazankin

The magic of Mary Poppins was further brought to life by intricate stage effects. Spreckel’s Technical Director, Eddy Hansen, did an amazing job, making full use of a  Paradyne projection system that combines still images and animations. For instance, when Mary arrived, we watched her slide sideways along the bannister. When she took out a toy-size bureau, the screen transformed it into a full-size one. During Feed the Birds, several fake birds on the stage seemed to walk into a nearby projection screen. Soon the birds were flying from one screen to another, gaining in number till they filled the sky. The audience seemed taken up with them; I could hear lots of children’s “oohs” and “ahhs” all around me. During the bank scene, the sun glowed through an immense golden dome, the rays of sunshine so real I could almost feel them.

The mechanical effects were impressive as well. When Mary set her carpet bag on the bed, she pulled out a real hat stand and tall potted plant. During the Spoonful of Sugar song, dishes fell, the cake slipped off the plate—and Mary magically fixed all of it, sending the objects back where they were. Toys became as big as humans and walked up out of a toy box. With the help of cables, Mary Poppins, Michael, and Jane flew.
I tried to stop comparing the movie with the musical, but it was difficult. I felt relieved when Mary still spoke to birds and dogs. When the song Jolly Holiday began, I kept waiting for the penguins to appear. Statues were coming to life, but where were the delightful dancing tuxedos? Finally, I whispered to my son, “What happened to the penguins?”
“That’s from the movie, mom,” he said. If there had been more light, I’m sure I would have seen him rolling his eyes from my obvious lack of knowledge. “The scene with statues is from the book.”
Another surprise was the Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious number. Never having read the books, I had no idea that the word came from an “inbetween world” shop that sold conversations and letters. As an English teacher, it makes me happy to think of a shop like this.
MaryPoppins_1

photo by Eric Chazankin

For me, the only thing that the movie did better was by making Mrs. Winifred Banks a suffragette. In the musical she is a wife who gives up a career on the stage. Nowadays, Mrs. Banks would be able to find a way to be on the stage and be a wife and mother. Maybe Mr. Banks would work part-time. Perhaps Mary Poppins would stay on, and still see the children, say during rehearsal times.
The familiar numbers A Spoonful of Sugar, Let’s Go Fly a Kite, and Feed the Birds were just as delightful as the movie. I have to admit that during the song, “Feed the Birds,” it was impossible not to hum along. Choreographer, Michella Snider, did a fantastic job. At least 20 actors danced on stage during Supercalifragilisticexpia-lidocious and Step in Time.
Dominic Williams gave a top-notch performance as Bert, and Mary Gannon Graham was superb in her comedic portrayal of the “Holy Terror” nanny, Miss Andrew. The Brimstone and Treacle vs. Spoonful of Sugar number with Graham and Buck was lovely. I’d gladly go anywhere to hear Graham sing!
Near the end of the play, Mary flew again. When her umbrella-and-hat shadow was reflected in the light of a full moon, chills ran up and down my arms. The curtain came down, and I’m pretty sure I watched some children take part in their first standing ovations, hooting and hollering. They loved it! The cast returned to the stage, and sang Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious with the audience. Finally, I got to sing without being shushed by my son. Director Gene Abravaya also joined the cast and sang. Afterwards, he spoke about the age of tunnel vision (into three-inch phone screens), and how necessary it is to keep performance art alive.
Be sure to check out Spreckel’s 2015-2016 Season that includes  A Little Princess, Treasure Island, Little Women, Wait Until Dark, and Disney’s The Little Mermaid. The theater will continue using their Paradyne projection system for many shows. For more information visit Spreckels Performing Arts Center’s website, http://www.rpcity.org/index.aspx?page=231, or call 707-588-3400. Parents can also call the box office to enroll their children/aspiring actors in the summer youth acting program. The theater is located at 5409 Snyder Lane in Rohnert Park.