Before “Supernanny,” before “Nanny 911,” and long before “The Nanny,” there was Mary Poppins. Fast-talking, no-nonsense, and practically perfect Mary Poppins began as the titular character in a series of children’s books by P.L. Travers. When Walt Disney got the chance, he jumped at the opportunity to remake the imposing figure of Mary Poppins into a more amicable, kid-friendly version of Travers’ character.
Needless to say, the many changes to the character and story caused Travers to refuse to allow anyone else to make a movie out of her beloved nanny. The only way the musical was permitted to be made was by firmly agreeing to not let anyone involved in the Disney movie participate in the creation of the musical. But just because Mary Poppins has undergone severe literary alterations does not negate the brilliance of any of the incarnations. Stern or sweet, plain or pretty, overly vain or practically perfect, Mary Poppins has charmed her way into countless hearts since her introduction in 1934.
The Fulton Theater’s production of Mary Poppins features a nanny that falls somewhere in the middle of Travers’ original and the Disney adaptation. With a cast that could hardly have been better and musical accompaniment by ten highly skilled orchestra members, this production is up to par with nearly every other performance The Fulton has staged.
Watching the audience pour into the theatre, it was refreshing to see the large number of families with small children in attendance. Mary Poppins is certainly a children’s book character, but the story can reach a person of any age. Mary Poppins herself was excellently cast, with Fulton alum Katie Sina maintaining the necessary poise, charisma, grace, and wit throughout the night while also managing to charm children and grown-ups alike with her interpretation of the much loved nanny. Her performance seemed effortless.
Brian Shepard, another Fulton alum seen most recently as Cosmo Brown in last season’s “Singing In the Rain,” dazzled as Burt, the sometimes painter, sometimes chimney sweep who is always nearby to lend a helping hand. Having seen Shepard’s tap dancing in “Singing In the Rain,” it was no surprise that his skill has not wavered in “Mary Poppins.”
Shepard and Sina shared a seamless chemistry, by no means dominating the story, but certainly making the entire performance embody a carefree and magical spirit. George and Jane Banks, Mary Poppins’ charges, were excellent singers and dancers. For any child actor, it is difficult to juggle the responsibilities of memorizing lines, remembering blocking and dances, and singing on top of all of it, but these two definitely gave it their all. Mr. and Mrs. Banks did not share the chemistry of Burt and Mary Poppins, but that aided in their development throughout the story and by no means detracted from their individual numbers.
Perhaps the most memorable of all the numbers from the musical, “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” certainly delivered due to the high caliber of Shepard and Sina. The costumes in the scene were fantastically bizarre, in the best way possible. The energy in this number, as well as throughout the rest of the performance, was infectious and led – not surprisingly – to an extended standing ovation at the curtain call. While some of the humor was clearly geared for a young audience, the majority of the story can be enjoyed by an individual of any age or taste. Of course some of the content was a bit dated and some of the dialogue overtly sexist, but the overall message of the story shines through with very little to tarnish its shine. And not to spoil anything too important, but Mary Poppins totally flies in this production.
“Mary Poppins” runs until December 29, and if you show up an hour before the curtain with a valid student ID, you can get any remaining seats for only $10 through The Fulton’s student rush program. Also, the week after the show closes, there will be a special, all-youth production of “Mary Poppins” on Tuesday, January 7 and Wednesday, January 8 at 7:30 p.m. Those tickets will be $15 for students and $20 for adults.
If you are local or plan to stay in the area for some time, these performances are a great way to support local schools and youth programs without traveling very far or spending much money. Whichever production you choose to attend, don’t miss out on the magic. When you’re with a ‘sweep, you’re in glad company, and when you’re in the company of The Fulton’s “Mary Poppins,” you’re in for a magical ride.