It's not the movie, but it's still a jolly holiday with 'Mary Poppins'

For the News-DemocratJuly 31, 2013 

The biggest crowds of the Muny season have flocked to sweet-as-sugar "Mary Poppins" --- whether it's the enticing family-friendly entertainment or nostalgia for the beloved 1964 Disney film that won Julie Andrews an Oscar.

This crowd-pleaser benefits from snappy choreography by Alex Sanchez, whose innovative dances include two showstoppers -- a defies-description "Supercalifragilisticexpealidocious" and the dazzling "Step in Time." The precision on display is remarkable.

Also capturing the audience's fancy is the sublime Rob McClure. He was memorable as Lord Farquaad in "Shrek" earlier this season, and excels as Bert, the endearing chimney sweep who sings a touching "Chim Chim Cher-ee." His nimble footwork and charm helped the show, which is a mixed bag.

The theatrical production can't duplicate the movie magic, but it tries -- the super-powered nanny flies through across the stage on a harness, a pretty nifty effect, and drew big ovations twice. Nevertheless, bells and whistles are fleeting.

The original story, by P.L. Travers, presents a far more stern Mary Poppins, and the show has stuffy segments that present British home life in the early 20th Century. The plot is clever -- two young British children mysteriously get a just-what-they-ordered nanny and are introduced to a cadre of colorful characters. But their parents have problems of their own -- dad's suspended from work and mom wants a life of her own. Yet, Mary makes everything merrier -- a "Jolly Holiday," if you will.

The Disney chestnut was infused with hummable tunes by Richard and Robert Sherman in addition to a radiant Andrews and delightful Dick Van Dyke. This duo is the tale's lynchpin, and while Jenny Powers sang like a nightingale, she was a rather bland leading lady.

Besides McClure, the supporting characters, many St. Louis favorites, were impressive. Zoe Von der Haar portrayed the high-strung cook, James Anthony was the bank executive, Laura Ackermann sang a beautiful "Feed the Birds" as the Bird Woman, and the adorable Elizabeth Teeter reprised her Broadway role as Jane Banks. Aidan Gemme, who played her younger brother here and on Broadway, was equally strong.

These performers boosted the kids' show enjoyment immensely.

The show runs through Aug. 3 in the outdoor theatre in Forest Park. For more information, visit muny.org or call 314-361-1900.

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