No ‘Spoonful of Sugar’ Needed to Savor Mary Poppins

by Autumn Rhea Carpenter on March 14, 2016 in Entertainment, Theatre,
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The wordsmith geeks out there will be thrilled to know that the 34 lettered word supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, 16 of which are vowels and the remaining 19 consonants, equaling a 14 syllable nonsense word was given the spotlight in the most delightful way at the recent production of Mary Poppins at Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS).  

For me, the lively scene where the whimsical word arises from Mrs. Corry’s shop where the eternally witty Mary Poppins (Christina Decicco) and the spoiled children, Michael (Sean Gaul) and Jane (Lomonte) venture to ‘buy an ounce of conversation’ was the highlight of the musical, adapted by Julian Fellows (of Downton Abbey fame) and based on the 1964 Disney movie starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke.  In the stage version, the children choose seven letters, Mary picks one letter and Bert and the rest of the colorful ensembles try to form words out of the 15 letters until Mary informs them that it’s acceptable to use the same letter more than once. And the attempt at saying it backwards is always impressive: dociousaliexpilisticfragicalirupes, of course.

This is a must see production. Photos by Christian Brown
This is a must see production. Courtesy photo

While this production includes the usual suspects, including the high-stepping  chimney sweep Bert, (Danny Gardner) the eternally witty Mary Poppins, the bratty children, a stern Mr. Banks (Drew McVety) and domesticated Mrs. Banks,  (Courtney Markowitz) it strays from the movie, adding a new depth and dimension. Director and choreographer Linda Goodrich cast impeccable characters; each actor shared a believable, exuberance that kept the production upbeat throughout the entire show.

There are a few diversions from the movie. The silly Uncle Albert is gone, and Mrs. Banks is no longer a suffragette, but rather a subservient wife. A hateful, ancient nanny named Miss Andrew (Jane Blass) has been added to the cast, creating a menacing presence that adds to the story’s tension and explains Mr. Banks’ traumatic childhood.

The music written by the Sherman Brothers didn’t disappoint, as I found myself singing along with almost every song.  “Spoonful of Sugar” was a crowd pleaser, as Mrs. Banks swallows double doses of Poppins’ sweet concoction while the wrecked kitchen is magically repaired. The breezy “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” song reminded the audience of Mr. Banks’ lost childhood and how it was affecting his family.

In contrast to the upbeat disposition of most of the show’s songs, “Feed the Birds” has a reverent mood, illustrating the important moment when Michael and Jane encounter the Bird Woman sitting along the steps of the St. Paul Cathedral selling bags of breadcrumbs for tuppence and their father discourages them from feeding the birds.

The scenic designer Timothy Mackabee, adds a palatable magic quality to the backdrops and sets as the street scenes, Bank’s house and park scene possess lifelike qualities. Each scene contained visual layers that kept the audience engaged with the cast.

For the movie sticklers, the stage version makes up for its lack of cartoon penguins with a flying nanny, a magical kitchen, an almost-talking dog, life size toys and dancing statues.

Mary Poppins and her fanciful crew are in Houston until March 20, when the wind shifts and carries them to the next city. Don’t miss the magic of Mary Poppins at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts. 800 Bagby Street, Houston, TX 77002. For tickets, visit their online box office or call (713)558-8887.