When I saw that Marriott Lincolnshire Theatre would be the first “regional” theater to take on “Mary Poppins” this season, I questioned just how a LARGE production of this beloved musical ( based on the movie of course) could be presented on this smaller , in the round, intimate space. I know they were able to pull off some others in the past, but this one is “ginormous”. Then I saw that the Director to handle the show would be Gary Griffin ( a genius when it comes to using a stage of any size to fit the production) and although my fears were somewhat diminished, I still had my doubts. Well, all my doubts were erased last night when I witnessed an amazing production of an amazing fairy tale that filled two and a half hours ( the shortest 2 1/2 hours in a theater, as it moved so quickly, we did not want it to end) with an absolute perfect cast of players, from chimney sweep, to Admiral, housemaid, and of course the adorable and lovable Mary Poppins herself (Summer Naomi Smart truly shows her talent in taking on a character that most of us know from the film version, Julie “somebody”) see Ms Smart has already made me forget.
The 1964 Disney classic is of course based on the stories of P.L. Travers about a “Nanny” that has magical powers, or so it appears that comes to visit a family in Englan. The Banks family is a troubled family with a father, George ( another defining role for Rod Thomas, who Chicago audiences are watching mature as an actor- he is dynamite), his wife Winnifred ( the always reliable Susan Moniz) and their two children Jane ( Caroline Hefferman and Madison Glora Olszewski share the role) and Michael( another shared role played by the adorable and talented Johnny Rabe and Brady Tutton, who might be remembered for his recent portrayal of “Oliver” ). The Banks family is in trouble as dad is too busy for his children and family and the kids are reaching out for help- that is what Mary Poppins is all about- making the family whole again!
Lots of magical , musical moments ( original music from the film and new songs with music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. Remember, this was a Broadway production that came to Chicago several years ago. I must tell you, this production, in this intimate space, without Mary flying over the audience is a far better one, visually and in total. from start to finish, Bert is our leader, telling us the tale from his dusty old tome, this production should be on your MUST SEE list for the holidays. Musical numbers that are true highlights and will amaze and beguile you are the “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and “Step In Time” where Choreographer Alex Sanchez truly proves that it is not the size of the stage that matters, but the creativity of the choreographer and the talent of his ensemble- well, he did it! And so did they!
The effects and sets in a theater in the round are not as easy as working on a normal large stage, but Marriott Theatre has always proved to be creative in making the audience see what they need to see. For this production, they have installed video screens around the theater allowing us to see Mary fly in and where we also see other visuals, in particular the kite flying scene of “lets Go Fly A Kite”- very realistic indeed, thanks to the projection design of Mike Tutaj. The set design, made very fleible for easy on and off by Thomas M. Ryan works well and the lighting effects ( Diane Ferry Williams) and delightful period costumes ( Nancy Missimi) along with the props by Sally Weiss all make for a very special theatrical experience.
The musical direction ( Michael Mahler) and the musical supervision ( Patti Garwood) along with the eight musicians make the songs fill the room with the glee and joy of a Disney show, but in this case, it is more of what we should call a “Griffin” show as he has done his magic as well. assembling a cast as strong as this one is not an easy task, but it shows off the solid talent that we have in Chicago ( eat your hearts out, New York). Ensemble members in key roles: John Reeger ( as the Admiral and the bank Chairman), Paula Scrofano does an incredible job as housekeeper Mrs Brill, Matthew Crowle, Rebecca Finegan as the bird woman ( “Feed the Birds” song ) and as Miss Andrew, Johanna McKenzie Miller,Erika Mac, Sam Rogers,Devin DeSantis,Jameson Coper, William Carlos Angulo, Lauren Blane, Jaclyn Burch, Raymond Interior, Amanda tanguay, Brandi Wooten and Melissa Zaremba. As I always say, a musical is only as good as its ensemble members who go from role to role, costume to costume, dance and sing, making your experience one to remember. Thank you ensemble.
“Mary Poppins” will continue at Marriott Theatre of Lincolnshire located at 10 Marriott Drive ( just off Milwaukee Avenue/Rte 21 and south of Half day Rd/Rte 22) in Lincolnshire Illinois through January 5th with performances as follows:
Thursdays 8 p.m.
Fridays 8 p.m.
Saturdays at 4:30 and 8 p.m.
Sundays at 1 and 5 p.m.
Tickets range from $40-$48 and are available at the box office , by phone at 847-634-0200 or of course online at www.MarriottTheatre.com where you can also see the special performance schedule for the holidays (12/26-1/5). There is plenty of free parking at the Resort as well as dining ( Wednesdays and Thursdays offer some dinner packages at $55 per person including the show. Milwaukee Avenue has lots of dining experiences as well.
To see what others are saying about this production, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, click on to Review Round-Up and click “Mary Poppins”. I have a feeling that we will see a great number of “jeff” nominations for this sterling production.