Originally published in The Oklahoman on July 9, 2015. See the original article here.

By Rick Rogers, for The Oklahoman. 

Mary Poppins, that irrepressible nanny who comes to the rescue of Cherry Tree Lane’s dysfunctional Banks family, is fond of sharing nuggets of wisdom with her young charges. One of those proved to be particularly insightful in describing Lyric Theatre’s debut of the musical that bears her name.

One might not fully grasp the importance of the phrase “anything can happen” when Mary first utters it. But it turned out to be relevant, not only within the context of the musical, but prophetic when describing live theater in general.

Lyric’s opening night production had many “anything can happen” moments, from random microphone problems and a wardrobe malfunction for one of the chimneysweeps to an orchestra that often overpowered the cast and a technical mishap that prevented the title character from taking one last flight.

Fortunately, those shortcomings rarely prevented this nostalgic production from soaring. And in doing so, it transported the audience in ways that only the musical theater can. Much of that can be attributed to Joe Deer’s expert direction.

Of course he has a peerless cast of principals who deliver on nearly every count, from the consistency of their British accents (kudos to dialect coach Rena Cook) and adept acting choices to well-sung musical numbers and clever bits of stage business.

It’s especially gratifying to see so many accomplished actors adding just the right ingredients to make the production a success. Among them are Jonathan Beck Reed as George Banks, the stern family patriarch who ultimately lets us see his humanity, and Melissa Griffith, whose portrayal of Winifred Banks is touchingly heartfelt and honest.

Much of the show’s humor falls to Brenda Williams and Marilyn Govich, the former offering a brilliant, comic turn as the put-upon housekeeper Mrs. Brill, and the latter conjuring formidable menace as Miss Andrew, a nanny known as the holy terror.

Jessica Tate has the right look for the Bird Woman but doesn’t convey sufficient world-weariness for her character. Mandy Jiran is delightfully wacky as Mrs. Corry, the proprietress of stories and conversations who leads the cast in the tongue-twisting “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” an example of Matthew Sipress’ fine choreography.I had forgotten just how much responsibility the actors playing Jane and Michael Banks have to bear. Addie Wagner and Michael James handle their roles with facility, wit and professionalism that is remarkable for such young performers.

Jeremy Benton is utterly charming as the chimneysweep Bert, a character who also serves as a narrator of sorts. It’s a nicely layered performance that is doubly rewarding when Benton demonstrates his considerable dance skills in “Jolly Holiday” and “Step in Time.”

Lindsie VanWinkle’s performance as Mary Poppins left me searching for and ultimately running out of superlatives. I’ve rarely witnessed such a thoroughly compelling portrayal, one that exudes charm, tickles one’s fancy with cheekiness and ultimately sings and dances her way into your heart.

VanWinkle’s character isn’t the least bit boastful when she informs the Banks children that she’s “Practically Perfect.” But hers is a performance that hardly needs qualification. So let’s lose the modifying adverb and be done with it. As Mary Poppins, VanWinkle is simply perfect. Don’t miss the opportunity to fall under her spell.

 

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