Tuesday February 20th 2018

“Mary Poppins”

marypoppinsThe Mercury Theater of Chicago is in fact a “gem” of a place to view a play. It is a very intimate space and under the direction of L. Walter Stearns, a man who understands using a small space for “large” productions, it works. When I saw their season included “Mary Poppins”, I thought, “how?”. This is a small stage with very little space! Today, I saw what this sterling director was able to do with a small stage and a uniquely small ensemble of players who appear to be far larger in numbers than they are. They zip on and off stage, changing costumes and characters with great speed and amazingly never missed a cue. Bravo to the most important people of any musical production- the ensemble/chorus members who play all the smaller roles, do all the chorus songs and dance their hearts out to make the show whole!

“Mary Poppins” , The Broadway Musical, is of course based on the Disney Film, and recently many theater companies have done a production of the show.  Marriott Lincolnshire where it was “in-the-round”, Drury Lane Oakbrook and The Paramount in Aurora where the stages are taller, wider and easier to put on the “big shows”, all did great jobs. How could the “little venue on Southport” compete with these theaters? These venues with more money as well as more space? Stearns has always been of the mindset that his was the “little theater that could”, and once again, he has taken the bull by the horns and showed us all that he in fact could!poppins_img2

“Mary Poppins” is the “Supercalifragilistic” musical that combines the best of the P.L. Travers stories and the film by Disney. The music and lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman are delights to listen to ,and the dance numbers in this version staged (choreographed) by Brenda Didier are amazing, considering the size of the stage with which she had to work. Adam Veness has designed a set that includes curtains and moveable units to create the illusions that allow the story to move swiftly. It is not glamorous, but is very workable. The costumes (Rachel Boylan) and the lighting (Nick Belley) along with the sound (Mike Ross) and the music (Eugene Dizon, who with his five musicians make the music fill the theater) are the finishing touches on Stearn’s tribute to Walt Disney.

poppins_img1What makes this show”Practically Perfect” in every way is the team of actors that fill the roles. I am going to begin with the ensemble as they are the back-bone of what makes this show reach the heights that it does: Kayla Boyle, Timothy Eidman, Dan Gold, Graham Hawley, Ashley Lanyon, Conor McGarry (who also does a great statue), Leah Morrow, Cameron Turner , Erin Parker and Holly Stauder (amazing as Miss Andrew and the Bird Lady-what a voice!). These ten actors take on what seems to be a hundred characters, and do so with style and grace! The Banks family is the starting off point for the entire story. They (Kevin McKillip as the very agile George and Cory Goodrich as Winifred) have two children who are uncontrollable. In this afternoon’s performance they were played by  Sage Harper as Jane and Casey Lyons as Michael. They were both adorable and had great stage presence. These roles are played at othe rtimes by Peyton Owen and Pearle Bramlett).

The other two actors in this production are Bert (our chimney sweep/narrator) played to sheer perfection by Matt Crowle, who keeps showing Chicago how diverse his talent is. Crowle seems to have great comic timing, just the right wink in his eye and his dancing and singing is magical. Every so often, Chicago gets a triple-threat performer, and he is definitely one of those. Playing the title role is the powerful and extremely adorable Nicole Armold- I loved her and could not take my eyes off her. She is a charmer and has a powerful vocal range. Walter! You did it!poppins_img6

The magic in the show worked well. Mary did pull things out of her suitcase and make the broken items in the kitchen scene come back together. Also- she does FLY!!. Let’s face it! The magic is in the stories that have been put together to form this lovely sweet two-and-one-half-hour musical featuring memorable songs such as ; “Practically Perfect”, “Jolly Holiday”, “A Spoonful of Sugar”, ” Feed The Birds”, “Chim Chim Cher-ee”, “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”, “Let’s Go Fly A Kite”,  “Step-In-Time” ( a simply dazzling version), and “Anything Can Happen”. There are many more, but just these and the production numbers are well worth the price of a ticket for this one. “Mary Poppins” is scheduled to continue at The Mercury Theater thru May 28th (I am sure there will be an extension) with performances as follows:

poppins_img5Wednesdays  7:30 p.m.

Thursdays  7:30 p.m.

Fridays  7:30 p.m.

Saturdays  3  and 7:30 p.m.

Sundays 1 and 6 p.m.

After April 20th, Thursdays will offer a  matinée as well at 3 p.m.

Tickets range from $30-$65 (every seat is strong) and can be ordered by calling 773-325-1700 or online at www.MercuryTheaterChicago.com. The Theater is located at 3745 N. Southport (just down the street from The Music Box) in the Wrigleyville area. New restaurant next door-Grass Roots is very healthy and flavorful (see my review at restaurants) and Southport has many other dining opportunities including a new Chicago yogurt store directly across the street from the theater. Pretty tasty (and fewer calories).

There is street parking (metered ) and valet parking ($15). Know that if you are coming to the theater when the Cubs have a game, traffic will be rougher and parking can be a zoo. Give yourself ample time or use Uber or public transportation.poppins_img3

To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “Mary Poppins”

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