Despite some technical issues on opening night, inconsistent sound issues, and a lack of confidence in the performance of Elizabeth Krebs ‘choreography Mary Poppins – the musical theater version of the Disney film inspired by PL Travers’ stories loosely inspired by her own childhood adventures – opened for a rousing ovation from the audience at Smyrna’s Springhouse Theater Company on Friday night.
With sympathetic leading actors, Crystal Kurek, Michael Adcock and Kristina James lead the ensemble of eager and dedicated players (including two really cute child actors who play Jane and Michael Banks) in a pleasant and often appealing version of the much-produced musical that won awards on Broadway and in the west end. Directed by Margaret Meeks with a certain light-hearted elegance, the audience should be made aware that the only actor to use an accent – namely a Cockney – is Michael Adcock as Bert, while the others have Central American-sounding voices with a lagniappe of affect here and there a southern trait added to the mix.
The story should be familiar to anyone who has ever watched television, been to a movie house, or partially knew what was going on around them: A troubled family living on Cherry Tree Lane in Edwardian-era London needs a new nanny to correct you the wild and pesky pair of Banks children (played by Jackson Kinsey as Michael and Shelby Baltimore as Jane) while their parents (played by Kristina James and Gregory Henry) stand at odds as their two awkward servants (Marsha Allen as Paula Deens angry wig [aka Mrs. Brill]and Jack Gilpin as the aging Robertson Ay) try to make the best of an increasingly dire situation.
Literally flying into her life to save the day as an Edwardian superhero is the sometimes silent but refreshingly direct Mary Poppins (the aforementioned Ms. Kurek), the magical and “practically perfect” governess who intends to become the Banks’ houseship -Family in Bristol repairing fashion – with the theater bag full of tricks in their carpet bag.
On the way from quarrelsome family to heartwarming and affectionate foursome, the members of the Banks household struggle with all sorts of fun (some of which will make you laugh, others will make you scratch your head) charming street performer with chimney sweep named Bert (Mr. Adcock has all the sparkling eyes and warmth in the role), who donates good luck with the handshake while he asks for the beautiful Miss Poppins.
Disney’s Mary Poppins and Cameron Mackintosh – as it is officially titled in the eloquent fashion of contemporary musical theater – includes a book by Julian Fellowes (he created Downton Abbey and also wrote the book for Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s stage adaptation of School of Rock, which is now on stage at Andrew Jackson Hall from TPAC through Sunday if you want a Julian Fellowes theater weekend) and features the original music and lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman (who made the Disney movie) with new songs and additional music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. As written, the musical can be inventive and resourceful as its imaginative story unfolds on stage when all the technical requirements go smoothly, but when things go off the rails for even a brief moment the action slows down to a crawl and steps in moving forward at a treac pace.
This was the case on the opening night, when the very capable musical director / conductor Allison Hall and her accomplished nine-player orchestra had to vampire for (at least) five minutes while some technical snafu or other type of offstage was causing nonsense backstage. I half expected Fellowes to come off the wings to distract us with jokes and crazy stories of backstage gimmicks while the technical crew worked to fix the pesky issues.
However, we’re happy to report that thanks to Flying By Foy (the people who have made certain actors soar to heaven in their flying belts for generations), Mary Poppins flies gently and ethereally across the sky with her branded umbrella above and her magical carpet bag in her arms, much to the delight of every single person in the audience.
Director Margaret Meeks’ decision to cast Crystal Kurek (who previously played the title role for the Hendersonville Performing Arts Center) is an obvious, wonderful choice, given that her leading actress, Mary Poppins, confidently portrays Mary Poppins with generous charm and impressive panache, and her beautiful voice at the same time used musical score is due. And if there is anyone better suited to play Mary Poppins, then it is clearly her. Adcock is good like Bert, and uses his own charm and showbiz acumen to produce a believable performance. He’d be the first to admit he’s not really a dancer, but he speaks admirably throughout the show, which lasted two hours and 45 minutes on the opening night.
Kristina James is delightful when the actress became the wife and mother of middle class Winifred Banks, demonstrating her own singing talents in the process and showing off her own ample stage presence in scenes with the engaging Gregory Henry as her husband, the unhealthy George Banks. Among the cast members, Ximena Lindsey as the shopkeeper Mrs. Corry makes a bold statement by adding wit and panache to the sensational number “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”, and Shannon Henry almost stops the show herself as the malicious and demanding Miss Andrew (George Banks’) former nanny), with her lovely soprano who publishes some sheet music that is sure to rip your socks off.
The show can be a tech nightmare, and Springhouse Theater’s Mary Poppins will continue through September 30th, giving the company plenty of time to iron out any technical issues that will continue to nag until the issues are resolved (we even assume so that performance will improve significantly tonight)).
Mary Poppins from Disney and Cameron Mackintosh. A musical based on the stories from PL 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. Contributed by Cameron Mackintosh. Directed by Margaret Meeks. Musical director of Allison Hall. Choreography Elizabeth Krebs. Presented by the Springhouse Theater Company at the Springhouse Worship and Arts Center, 14119 Old Nashville Highway, Smyrna. Until September 30th. More information is available at www.springhousetheatre.com. Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes (with a break of 15 minutes).
Photos by Kenn Stilger / Heavenly Perspective Photography