Published by NewsOK.com – Read original article here.
Originally published on July 10, 2015
There really is only one word to describe the Lyric’s production of “Mary Poppins” directed by Joe Deer. This version builds on the film script and score without trying to reproduce it; the original book and lyrics are by Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman, with additional songs by George Stiles and Andrew Drewe. The adapted stage book is by Julian Fellowes. The combination of the parts creates a show that takes us up to the highest heights.
Make no mistake however! This is very much from the mind of Pamela Travers, who created the magical nanny in a series of books in the early 20th century. Readers will recognize many elements in the stage production merely nodded to in the film, if they were present at all.
To send this production soaring, Deer has assembled the right cast and given them the right tools. Lindsie Vanwinkle as Mary is appropriately pert, particular, and protective of her charges, which include not only Jane and Michael Banks but also their parents. Vanwinkle gives the character-who is not really quite a real person but not quite not-warmth inside strict and whimsy inside discipline. She is the warm breeze (and sometimes chill wind) that comes and goes and sets everything in motion.
Jeremy Benton as Bert, man of many talents and Mary’s personal friend, is a serious triple threat; he sings beautifully and dances with power and grace, all while selling a real character, who is the narrative glue of the show. This role needs a powerhouse who can hum along reliably and explode only when necessary-or when it would be fun.
Addie Wagner as Jane and Michael James as Michael handled their demanding roles with real professional skill. Both were powerful singers (often hard to find in children) and both were competent dancers and actors. They sold the two children as both a set and as individuals-not an easy task for experienced performers. Jane and Michael are the connections in the family; somewhat tangled at first, the string is eventually smoothly extended into a more functional relationship.
Melissa Griffith as Winifred Banks gave a lovely and nuanced performance. Both fluidly graceful and just a bit socially awkward, the underlying steel in Mrs. Banks was hinted at throughout; its sudden emergence as a sword of justice defending her own was neither incongruous nor inconsistent. Providing both balance and strength, Griffith was a delightfully liquid foil to the more rigid and stilted manners of her spouse.
George Banks was played with consummate skill by Jonathan Beck Reed. If Bert is the glue, George is the paper, flapping in the wind until reconnected to what matters in his life; his wrinkles and creases are important to the character, and Reed lets us see them. George is the character who changes most in the course of the show, and this dramatic arc is what elevates this play from ‘nice for the kids’ to ‘good theatre.’ Reed takes this arc and carefully works in the elements needed to demonstrate it, fitting expression and posture and movement in and around the (invisibly rigid) structure of a choreographed musical.
Flying the Banks family kite is a bit tricky, since they do not, at first, work well together, and they face a number of ‘kite-eating’ trees in the form of unruly domestics, a demonic former nanny, and the ongoing struggle between doing what pays and doing what is right. They get a running start and a lift from the collection of imaginative and grounded characters around them.
The cast as a whole offered a strong support-a firm place on which to stand and launch. Standouts include Brenda Williams as a comedically perfect Mrs. Brill; Marilyn Govich, a tour de force as Miss Andrew, George’s former nanny; Stephen Hilton, solid and convincing in both his roles (Admiral Boom and Bank President); and Amanda Church, who gave us a sweetly flighty Miss Lark. In the role of the Bird Woman, Jessica Tate’s moving and evocative duet with Vanwinkle lifted the hearts of the listeners on the wings of the birds.
The minor technical flaws in the opening night performance (all well covered) have surely been remedied; such blips interrupt the flow of the magic, and no one knows this better than the strong technical crew at Lyric. The number of people backstage (as is often the case) is larger than the number of people on stage, and these are the unseen, unsung heroes of theatre. When they are perfect in their work, which is most of the time, they are invisible; this is in fact their goal. The occasional minor ‘oops’ is more annoying to them than to the audience. In this technically complex and demanding show, they deserve mention and accolades for being the real source of the magic that flies this show. When you go, read their names in the program, and give thanks for the magic of theatre.
“Mary Poppins” plays at the Civic Center Music Hall through July 11. Shows are at 7:30 on Thursday, July 9 and 8:00 on Friday and Saturday evening. There is also a 2:00 matinee on Saturday, July 11. The link to buy tickets can be found on the Lyric Theatre’s website at www.lyrictheatreokc.com, or call the box office at (405) 524-9312.