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Mary Poppins worth a visit

Citadel version of Disney classic enjoyable despite excessive preachiness

By: Anna Borowiecki

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Mar 26, 2014 01:45 pm

SPOONFUL OF SUGAR – Blythe Wilson (left) plays Mary Poppins while St. Albert Children’s Theatre alumna Kate Ryan (right) plays Mrs. Banks in the Citadel production. Zasha Rabie and Jack Forestier play Jane and Michael Banks.
SPOONFUL OF SUGAR – Blythe Wilson (left) plays Mary Poppins while St. Albert Children’s Theatre alumna Kate Ryan (right) plays Mrs. Banks in the Citadel production. Zasha Rabie and Jack Forestier play Jane and Michael Banks.
DAVID COOPER/Supplied photo

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Review

Mary Poppins
Runs until April 20
Citadel Theatre
Tickets: start at $35 Call 780-425-1820 or visit: citadeltheatre.com

The parrot-handled, umbrella-toting nanny has blown into town and No. 17 Cherry Tree Lane is downing a spoonful of medicine in no uncertain terms.

As Mary Poppins touches down on the stage of the Citadel Theatre, you can’t help but notice that although she reminds you of Julie Andrews’ sweet sparkle, at times there’s a Sunday sermon quality to the character that begs for a shot of sugar.

In this Citadel co-production with Theatre Calgary, Mary Poppins flies into town in a ravishing backdrop set on a revolving stage.

But unlike Disney’s 1964 smash film, this Michael Shamata directed production pushes sentimental familial closeness into the wings and reveals darker individual estrangements.

The Banks family is what contemporary psychologists would label as dysfunctional. Mr. Banks is more interested in making money than spending time with his family. Yet he is obsessed with maintaining control in the home. His mantra is “precision and order.”

Mr. Banks expects Mrs. Banks to run the home efficiently and make sure the children behave like marionettes. In turn, Mrs. Banks, a former actress, feels like a failure while the children misbehave while trying to flag their father’s attention.

From whence Mary Poppins comes, no one knows. However, the title character (played by the lovely Blythe Wilson) arrives with a bag full of magical tricks. In Mary’s presence, park statues come to life and tap-dancing penguins serve tea.

She turns cuddly toys into full-grown free spirits and when the kitchen collapses, she magically fixes the shambles with the wave of a hand.

Mary Poppins is after all Practically Perfect. As the song describes her, she is prim and proper, yet never too stern. She is educated, yet willing to learn.

“I’m clean and honest, my manner refined, and I wear shoes of the sensible kind,” sings Wilson in a chipper voice.

In some ways, Mary Poppins is a two-dimensional character, yet Wilson develops her into a perfectly charming enigma. And although her voice is unlike Julie Andrews’ – no one is like Andrews – it has a crystal purity and warmth.

Unfortunately the songs’ creators have attached a life lesson to each and it’s easy to grow restless with the inherent lecturing.

Interestingly enough, the musical is less about the children than it is about Mr. Banks’ personal healing and realizing that there are more important things than accumulating money and status.

Vincent Gale delivers a robust performance as Mr. Banks, a man lost in a world where his own childhood was mercilessly stripped away. And St. Albert Children’s Theatre alumna Kate Ryan delivers a touching performance as Mrs. Banks. Nowhere is her confusion and sadness more real than in the poignant song Being Mrs. Banks.

Andrew MacDonald-Smith as Bert, Mary’s best friend, is a delightful rogue. Forget Dick Van Dyke from the original Disney movie. The star was too much of a Hollywood sun-and-surf clone to come across as a Cockney chimney sweep and jack-of-all trades.

MacDonald-Smith delivers a more authentic feel with a light accent and a sooty street-wise bearing. He is a watcher of people depicting what he sees in sidewalk paintings that spring to life and turn the world upside down.

Taking the lead in Step in Time, MacDonald-Smith guides the sweeps into a rousing number of cartwheels and leaps that brought a roar of approval from the audience.

And Susan Gilmour as Miss Andrew, the nanny from hell, virtually stole every scene she was in, while Michelle Fisk as Mrs. Brill, housekeeper and cook extraordinaire, is the epitome of consternation.

The live 16-piece orchestra under musical director Don Horsburgh deserves special kudos for supplying a vivacious, ebullient score that delivers a real Broadway zing.

Aside from the chirpy family counselling, a trip to Cherry Tree Lane is a delightful stroll.


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