photo by Matthew Murphy

Pop in to Mary Poppins at the Paper Mill Playhouse… It’s Super!

by Shelley Bromberg, Msbrom.com

Lively.

Enchanting.

Thoroughly entertaining.

At the Paper Mill Playhouse, in Millburn, NJ, the energetic cast of Mary Poppins delivers on such musical theatre classics as “Chim Chim Cher-ee”, “A Spoonful of Sugar”, “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” — all special songs which, to many, will happily bring them back to their childhoods watching the 1964 Disney film starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke.

For these reasons and many more, this production is not to be missed!

Mary Poppins, the musical, is based on both stories of P.L. Travers and the Walt Disney film. The original music and lyrics are by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman. Julian Fellowes wrote the book, and he is also the writer and creator of the PBS hit “Downton Abbey.

As we enter the majestic theater on Sunday, May 21, 2017, there is an air of excitement and anticipation. The stage is set with the simple words, Mary Poppins. When the curtain opens, we are immediately transported to 1910 London, as we meet Bert, who is a jack-of-all-trades. He introduces us to the Banks family on Cherry Tree Lane.

Mary Poppins tells the story of this family: George and Winifred and their misbehaving children, Jane and Michael. After six nannies in four months, the children are in desperate need of a new nanny, the family unit is in need of repair, and the father and mother have their own issues that need to be worked out.

George Banks is too caught up in his work and is disinterested in spending quality time with the children. Winifred Banks is having difficulty making friends in the Banks’ social circle. While the children seek a loving and caring nanny, George seeks a stern, disciplinarian type — like the nanny who raised him, Miss Andrew, who is all “brimstone and treacle.”

The children win out, as Mary Poppins flies in just in time to not only guide the children with a gentle hand (with “just a spoonful of sugar”), but to mend the family, as well. Throughout the play, Poppins takes the children on a musical and magical adventure. In doing so, we are treated to energetic song performances, lively dance numbers, colorful costumes, well-orchestrated music, and feats of magic!

We have the opportunity to attend a lot of theatrical productions all over the state, from school shows, to community theater, to larger playhouses. Often when a production is good we often hear, “it’s just like Broadway.” The thing is, most often, it is not.

In the case of this production of Mary Poppins, it really is!

There are two numbers in this production that are truly spectacular and bring the house down. Special acknowledgement must be given to Denis Jones for his creative choreography. Without revealing too many surprises, the full cast number of “Supercalifragilisticepialidocious” is enthusiastically delivered by the thoroughly engaging cast. In addition, in “Step in Time” Bert leads the cast in a roof-top dance number that is energetic and entertaining.

The entire performance is stellar, and many kudos go to the entire staff including the following: Mark S. Hoebee for his creative direction, Jim Steinmeyer and Robert Ramirez for their illusion design, Meg Zervoulis for music direction, and Charlie Morrison for lighting. Timothy R. Mackabee designed a professional scenery design, and the colorful costumes that capture the essence of the time period can be attributed to Leon Dobkowski.

Elena Shaddow superbly portrays the role of Mary Poppins, which showcases her lovely voice. She has all of the mannerisms down pat, including the position of her feet as she soars through the sky. Meanwhile, Mark Evans portrays a fun and lively Bert, who dances effortlessly through his musical numbers.

Adam Monley effectively takes on the role of George Banks, as he undergoes a dramatic character change while under Poppins’ charge. When asked how he feels about portraying this part, he reveals that he enjoys taking on “juicy characters with big arcs.” Likewise, Jill Paice portrays George’s wife beautifully revealing the nuances involved with having to keep up with her expected social station. Rounding out the Banks family, Abbie Grace Levi energetically portrays the role of Jane; she has a lovely voice, as well. Lastly, John Michael Pitera adorably performs the role of Michael Banks.

Dierdre Friel (Miss Brill) and Blakely Slaybaugh (Robertson Ay) have a flair for performing their roles with comedy. In a similar fashion, Liz McCartney expertly depicts the antithesis of Poppins, the diabolical Miss Andrew. Rounding out the cast is Danielle K. Thomas, who brings much energy and spirit to the role of Mrs. Corry.

By the time the performance comes to an end, the cast is rewarded with a rousing and well-deserved standing ovation!

Afterwards, we have a chance to catch up with some audience members and get their take on the show.

Elizabeth from Monmouth tells us, “It’s so amazing! I loved ‘Supercalifragilisticepialidocious!’ I’ve never seen it staged like this, even though I’ve seen it performed so many times in other productions.”

Lisa from Newton divulges that “it just brings me back to being a child again. I remember watching the movie and loving it,” adding on that “I find myself tapping my feet along to the music. This performance just exceeded my expectations.”

We also caught up the actors who alternate in the roles of the Banks children, and asked them what life themes do they think this show teaches. Maddox Padgett (Michael Banks), an 11-year-old Floridian, reveals that from this musical, he has learned to “respect and be kind to everyone, because they can disappear.”

His co-performer, 12-year-old Madi Shaer (Jane Banks), discloses that she has learned to “be kind to anyone you meet, because you never know what someone will be like once you get to know them.”

When we asked Adam Monley (George Banks) of West Orange how he feels playing at the Paper Mill Playhouse, he reveals that, “while he’s performed across the coast from California to New York, the country’s best theater is in my own back yard.”

Judging from tonight’s performance, we’d have to agree.

Mary Poppins runs through June 25 at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn. To order tickets call the box office at (973)376–4343 or go to their website at www.papermill.org. Don’t forget to bring the kids!