The Placer Performance Calendar


Great Local Shows - Theatrical Reviews

Title Mary Poppins
Organization Stand Out Talent
Date(s) of show February 20 - March 8, 2015
Reviewer Dick Frantzreb

When I heard that Stand Out Talent was staging Mary Poppins, my first thought was “Can they do this?  The show seems so BIG!”  Director Jennifer Bortz used that same word (“big”) in her introduction, noting that it’s also the longest show they have ever put together.  But could they do it?  Yes, indeed.  It’s a charming show, faithfully and enthusiastically presented.

If you haven’t seen the Broadway version of Mary Poppins, I think you’re in for a pleasant surprise.  It’s a fresh take on the story.  Your favorite elements are all there:  the characters, the songs, and the general flow of the plot.  But there are a lot of changes, too.  For one thing, there are many more songs, with some differences in the familiar songs, and a recorded track that features contemporary arrangements and instrumentation.  And the songs don’t always appear in the plot where you might have expected them.  The characters have been tweaked, too.  Mr. Banks is not so much a bumbler as a troubled man.  Even Mary Poppins is edgier than the Julie Andrews character.  In fact, the whole show seemed to me to be a bit darker than the movie, though certainly not too dark for even the youngest of children.  In fact, there was even greater emphasis on moral lessons in this version of the story.  Beyond the altruism of “Feed the Birds,” there were messages like:  “support hard-working people” and “avoid get-rich-quick schemes” and “take good care of your toys (because they might have feelings)” and “your troubles won’t look so big when you see them in perspective (from the rooftops of London)” and “family is the most important thing.”  OK, some were in the movie, but they get heavier emphasis in this production.

The fanciful parts of the story were helped by still and video projections on the large screen at the back of the Tower Theatre's stage.  There were detailed images of No. 17 Cherry Tree Lane, the park, the bank, etc.  And in one of the many clever staging techniques, the actors simulate setting off a kite, and on the screen we see it being carried into the clouds.  There are some other tricks like this, but why spoil all the surprises?

I saw a lot of good acting on Saturday night, the second performance of this run.  Jason Bortz was a jaunty Bert, surprising me with his singing and a pretty good Cockney accent and providing the kindly, playful spirit that gives this show its heart.   Katie Poplawski’s was a stern but kind Mary Poppins, with a fine singing voice.  Andy McCollum introduced the new Mr. Banks and also impressed with his singing.  I think that Brittany Hall as Mrs. Banks may have had the most pleasing voice in the cast, and really persuaded me with her acting.  I have to say I was especially impressed with the children who played Jane and Michael, Kierra Mandell and Nathaniel Grandinetti.  Kierra is a natural actress, and Nathaniel was an impressive performer for one so small.  I want to single out two more of the cast, first Judith Boreham as Mrs. Brill, the Banks’ cook.  She had just the right degree of petulance and a fine English accent.  Music Director Nic Valdez had some great comic bits as Robertson Ay, and demonstrated a fine singing voice (no surprise there).

It’s hard to know how many players were in this show.  There are 27 individual roles, but there were a lot of additional people (mostly children) in multiple groups.  Several songs turned into big numbers that filled the stage with what seemed like 50 performers, though in each of these there was too much activity to count.  And these numbers, extravaganzas of singing and dancing, were the highlight of the show for me.  The “Jolly Holiday” song was one of these show-stoppers, with many familiar (and welcome) elements, such as the tap-dancing penguins.  “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” was another, with dozens of performers dancing and acting out the spelling of the word.  (Fun fact:  this word is in Microsoft Word’s online dictionary.  I know because it was misspelled in the program, and I was shaky on it until Word set me straight.)  And “Step in Time” was a hoot, when most of the cast came out dressed as chimney sweeps.  Not only did they do some of the iconic dance moves, but added a little tap dancing, break dancing and even acrobatics.  And this was one number when the audience really got into it and was spontaneously clapping in time to the music.

The large audience on this Saturday night loved these big numbers, responding with enthusiastic applause and even cheers to each of them.  What were we reacting to?  To some extent it was the familiar, fun, bouncy music.  But more than that, I think it was the energy and joy of the cast, especially evident in the final number, “Anything Can Happen (If You Let It)” when all the performers filled each corner of the theater and gave us some fine ensemble singing.

If you loved the movie, don’t worry about being disappointed by Mary Poppins (the musical).  All the charm is there.  If anything, it’s enhanced.  And Stand Out Talent has pulled off this "big" show with flair and heart.

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