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Mary Poppins

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Though it seems that Mary Poppins is the perfect conceit for a stage musical, that's not the way it started. In fact, Mary Poppins began in the 1930s as a series of children's books, written by P.L. Travers. In 1964, it became a successful, Disney-produced movie musical starring Julie Andrews. It wasn't until 2004 that Mary Poppins debuted on London's West End as an extravagant live event. Two years later, a Broadway production premiered; it went on to earn a Tony Award as Best Musical.

Now the nanny with supernatural inclinations has landed—flighty umbrella and all—at Los Angeles' Ahmanson Theatre, through February 7, and it is a dazzling spectacle. Minimally altered from the London and Broadway productions, the L.A. version remains magically captivating. What's more, nothing has been lost in terms of performance power. Ashley Brown as Mary and Gavin Lee as Bert, the enchanting chimneysweep, have together been the recipients of a bevy of New York honors for their Broadway incarnations; and, oh, do they prove their player's mettle in this two- hour-and forty-five minute marathon of a musical.

Moreover, the entirety of Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman's Oscar-winning score—including the oh-so-sweet "A Spoonful of Sugar," as well as a new take on the term-twisting "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious"—are on delightful display here. Plus, George Stiles and Anthony Drewe have added compositions—such as "Anything Can Happen" and "Brimstone and Treacle"—that only enhance the whimsy and otherworldliness that is Mary Poppins.

Valiantly directed by Richard Eyre, with sublime musical direction by James Dodgson and kaleidoscopic-like choreography by Matthew Bourne, Mary Poppins is played on a magnificent and versatile set designed by Bob Crowley—who also costumed the huge cast in an array of fetching Victorian outfits. Meanwhile, the show is bathed in the mood-altering lighting motif of Howard Harrison.

Like the lead actors—Brown and Lee—the long list of support players is first rate. Still, several deserve standout attention, including Ellen Harvey as the frightful Miss Andrew; Karl Kenzler as George Banks; and Andrew Keenan-Bolger as Robertson Ay. And just as the children under the tutelage of Mary Poppins come to rely on their nanny's mysterious majesty, this staging depends on adept child actors. Thankfully, Mary has them. Though the young performers work as a double cast at alternating performances, on the night reviewed, Katie Balen and Bryce Baldwin were pitch-perfect in the challenging roles of Jane and Michael Banks.

The show's book was penned by Julian Fellows (who won an Oscar for scripting Gosford Park), and it comes across as a relevant scenario with a heartfelt moral. Indeed, Mary Poppins ranges from engaging to phantasmagoric in a multitude of ways, managing to be both a cerebral and sensorial experience. The plot, for example, is centered on a financial crisis, but there's also a jaw-dropping instance of upside-down dancing on the ceiling, as well as Mary's high flying and ascendance under a parasol. It's truly and thoroughly mesmerizing. Don't miss it.

"Mary Poppins," a Disney / Cameron Macintosh Production, continues at the Ahmanson Theatre—135 North Grand Avenue, Los Angeles—through February 7. Show times are Tuesday – Saturday at 8 p.m., and at 6:30 p.m. on Sundays. Matinees are at 2 p.m. on Saturdays and 1 p.m. on Sundays. For reservations, dial (213) 972 – 4400. For more information, visit www.CenterTheatreGroup.org.

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.