Saturday, November 24, 2018

We Need You, Mary Poppins

Mary Poppins

San Francisco Playhouse
588 Sutter Street, San Francisco
sfplayhouse.org
Until Jan 12, 2019

A Musical based on the stories of P.L. Travers and the Walt Disney Film
Original Music and Lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman; Book by Julian Fellowes; New Songs and Additional Music and Lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe; Co-Created by Cameron Mackintosh

Directed by Susi Damilano
Music direction by Katie Coleman

Reviewed by Christine Okon

San Francisco Playhouse’s production of Mary Poppins is absolutely delightful, bringing us the spoonful of sugar we need to stomach these stressful times.

Based on the Broadway musical and the 1964 Disney film which was in turn based on the book by P.L. Travers, this version of Mary Poppins honors the shadows as well as the joy in the story of the magical, quirky nanny who saves the spirit of the Banks family (George, Winifred, Jane and Michael) in early 20th century England.

Bert the Chimney Sweep (Wiley Naman Strasser)
Class differences create contrast. The amiable chimney sweep Bert (a puckish and engaging Wiley Naman Strasser) is the chorus of the lower working class and gives us the widest perspective from rooftop to street. As the upper class moves along in their entitled sphere of wealth and profit, the striving middle class, represented by George Banks (Ryan Drummond), is in danger of becoming a corporate automaton, relishing order and precision above all else until Mary Poppins enters.

The incorrigible Banks children (Ruth Keith as Jane and David Ruskin as Michael) have burned through several nannies, much to the frustration of their mother Winifred Banks (Abby Haug), the bustling cook Mrs. Brill (Marie Shell), and servant Robertson Ay (Rod Voltaire Edora). As soon as the children voice the wording of the ad they’d like to place for “The Perfect Nanny,” there’s a knock at the door. As if by magic (and indeed it is magic), Mary Poppins appears in her crisp dress and carpetbag, ready to step into the job. El Beh gives us a solid, no-nonsense Mary Poppins, a “bit of a badass---and I like that,” as my theater companion said. Mary Poppins sees herself as “Practically Perfect” and is honest and direct; her example provides structure and guidance rooted in love, not control. She teaches Michael and Jane to own their actions and take responsibility for the repercussions of their decisions.

Mary Poppins opens up a world of whimsy and discovery, leading to some sparkling scenes where toys come to life, as in “Playing the Game,” with Gina Velez as “Valentine” and ensemble spinning in a kaleidoscope of colorful costumes as fun as a pile of unopened gifts under the Christmas tree. A big thumbs-up to costume designer Abra Berman and wig designer Laundra Tyne for creating the closest thing to a Disney animation on stage.

A Kaleidoscope of Color
Mary Poppins has friends in high places, namely, the rooftops full of “guardian angels” -- chimney sweeps--who keep the home fires burning clean. The number “Step in Time” bursts with so much energy that you feel worn out as an audience member; it’s that much fun, thanks to choreography by Kimberly Richards.

Bravo to the set, prop and lighting designers (Nina Ball, Jacquelyn Scott, and Patrick Toebe) who created the rotating stage where each setting--the rooftops and sky, the children’s bedroom, the Banks home, the park--unfolds like a pop-up storybook being read to you in an easy chair.

Mary Poppins (El Beh) arrives

The songs you know and love such as ”A Spoonful of Sugar,” “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” and others rekindle childhood right in your seat. The most moving song is “Feed the Birds,” said to be Walt Disney’ favorite and what the whole story is about. It’s soulfully sung by the incredible Katrina Lauren McGraw as the Bird Woman, surrounded by feathered friends, calling out her simple plea for kindness from the steps of the church. Whether or not one buys seed from her reveals character, as when Michael is willing to give his sixpence away and, even more profoundly, Mr. Banks notices her and gives something without expecting return. One suggestion: It would be very effective to project an image of a sky full of birds to suggest the endless opportunities to share kindness with others.

Katrina Lauren McGraw as the Bird Woman

Not only can she portray the old Bird Woman, but McGraw shows her eclectic range as the totally opposite Mrs. Andrews, the “Holy Terror” nanny of Mr. Banks’s childhood who, with her threats of a “Brimstone and Treacle” remedy bullies the Banks household until she meets her match in Mary Poppins. As a kindly old woman or a fearsome witch, McGraw’s powerful and beautiful voice fills the space in the theater and our hearts.

Bravo to director Susi Damilano for bringing us an outstanding synchronization of acting, staging, music, dance and fun. Give yourself a chance to snatch a little bit of joy this holiday season, and you’ll even get to see Mary Poppins fly!



MARY POPPINS

CAST

El Beh
MARY POPPINS

Dominic Dagdagan
NORTHBROOK/ NELEUS/ ENSEMBLE

Ryan Drummond*
GEORGE BANKS
Rod Voltaire Edora
Rod Voltaire Edora*
ROBERTSON AY/ PARK KEEPER/ ENSEMBLE

Rudy Guerrero*
POLICEMAN/ VON HUSSLER/ ENSEMBLE

Kathryn Han*
MISS LARK/ MISS SMYTHE/ ENSEMBLE

Abby Haug*
WINIFRED BANKS

Billy Hutton
MICHAEL BANKS

Grace Hutton
JANE BANKS

Ruth Keith
JANE BANKS

Sophia LaPaglia
KATIE NANNA/ MRS. CORRY/ ENSEMBLE

Catrina Manahan
ENSEMBLE

Jessica Mann
SWING

Katrina Lauren McGraw*
BIRD WOMAN/ MISS ANDREW/ ENSEMBLE

Anthony Rollins-Mullens*
ADMIRAL BOOM/ BANK CHAIRMAN/ ENSEMBLE

David Rukin
MICHAEL BANKS

Marie Shell*
MRS. BRILL/ QUEEN VICTORIA

David Stein
SWING

Wiley Naman Strasser
BERT

Gina Velez
VALENTINE/

Ruth Keith
JANE BANKS

Sophia LaPaglia
KATIE NANNA/ MRS. CORRY/ ENSEMBLE

Catrina Manahan
ENSEMBLE

Jessica Mann
SWING
Katrina Lauren McGraw*
BIRD WOMAN/ MISS ANDREW/ ENSEMBLE

Anthony Rollins-Mullens*
ADMIRAL BOOM/ BANK CHAIRMAN/ ENSEMBLE

David Rukin
MICHAEL BANKS

Marie Shell*
MRS. BRILL/ QUEEN VICTORIA

David Stein
SWING

Wiley Naman Strasser
BERT

Gina Velez
VALENTINE/ ENSEMBL


CREATIVE TEAM

Cameron Mackintosh
CO-CREATOR

P.L. Travers
AUTHOR

Sherman Brothers
Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman
ORIGINAL MUSIC AND LYRICS

Julian Fellowes
BOOK

George Stiles
ADDITIONAL MUSIC AND LYRICS

Anthony Drewe
ADDITIONAL MUSIC AND LYRICS

Susi Damilano
DIRECTOR

Katie Coleman
MUSIC DIRECTOR

Kimberly Richards
CHOREOGRAPHER

Nina Ball
SCENIC DESIGNER

Abra Berman
COSTUME DESIGNER

Theodore J.H. Hulsker
SOUND DESIGNER
PROJECTIONS DESIGNER

Patrick Toebe
LIGHTING DESIGNER

Jacquelyn Scott
PROPERTIES ARTISAN

Sarah Selig
STAGE MANAGER

Angela Knutson
ASSISTANT STAGE MANAGER

Shannon R. Carroll
ASSISTANT STAGE MANAGER

Maria Kosta
ASSISTANT STAGE MANAGER

Mike "Miguel" Martinez
SPECIAL EFFECTS DIRECTOR

Eliana Adise
STAGE MANAGEMENT INTERN

Caitlin McFann
STAGE MANAGEMENT INTERN

Dori Jacob
CASTING DIRECTOR

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