By Erika Brown Thomas
Remakes of beloved classics are the current Disney rage (thanks Disney Plus) and have been in high demand and one of the first and best from the storied animator/entrepreneur is one of the most loved American films, Mary Poppins.
The curious stories written by P.L. Travers were adapted by Disney to the become wildly popular and family favorite Disney film starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. It was hugely impressive and ground breaking cinematic material for the time. As with the movie, the stage presentation and its demands for magic, flying and illusion after illusion, is a huge theatrical undertaking. Drury Lane proves itself up for the challenge scene after scene.
The nostalgia of the well known Cherry Tree Lane address, where the Mr. & Mrs. George & Winnifred Banks Family resides, is demonstrated in the ambience created by the artistic team as cherry trees in full bloom decorate the theatre. This intentional setting is just the first spoonful of audience experiences carefully crafted for the show.
Emilie Lynn is practically perfect as the enigmatic and magical Mary Poppins. Her high soprano voice alludes to the lilting soprano of the inimitable Andrews, while also leaving no doubt that she, too, is a “Mary that we love.” Her numerous flying entrances and exits from different locations receive applause at every opening of the infamous parrot umbrella.
The affable jack of many trades, Bert, is played by James T. Lane with a smile and charm that makes this already lovable character completely his own. Lane’s dancing prowess is highly evident in the show stopper, “Step In Time,” and the rest of the ensemble easily steps up to the plate to bring the house down with a fast paced, creative choreography different from the iconic movie scene, but just as intriguing and fun filled!
Jane and Michael, the mischievous and unmanaged sibling pair who’ve managed to run off almost every nanny in London, are played by alternating casts of talented children. Grier Burke and Nicole Scimeca, as Jane and Hunter DiMailig and Sebastian Merlo as Michael. The roles are quite demanding and it’s incredibly exciting to watch and marvel at such talented young actors taking on roles so integral to a show.
Alexis J. Roston brings a life to the Mrs. Winnifred Banks that has been altered from the familiar figure in the film. This Mrs. Banks is less extroverted and outgoing, but seemingly much more connected to her children. Roston is a delight onstage and allows her humor to shine out strongly during some of the more “stuffy” parts of the two and half hour show.
The tightly wound and emotionally misguided George Banks is portrayed by Matt Crowle. When Mr. Banks finally turns the corner and realizes himself for a foolhardy father, Crowle’s talents bubble forth with an energy and talent for singing and dancing that rivals Bert’s—not entirely surprising since Crowle is among Chicagoland’s finest dancers and has played Bert on stages in the past. The role is difficult as it depends on the back and forth of Banks’ likability, and Crowle is comfortable with the discomfort he brings as he battles between the emotions he bears for his family and the rigorous rigid life he’s been prescribed.
Each member of the creative team has contributed to the cleverness and seamless storytelling of the well-known story and their craftsmanship is on par with the Broadway productions. The illusions designed by Jim Steinmeyer and flight direction of Paul Rubin are of particular standout note in Director Marcia Milgrom Dodge‘s overall glorious production.
The timeless music of Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman with new songs and lyrics by George Stile and Anthony Drewe leave the audience singing and humming on the way home. It’s a particularly enjoyable, albeit long performance for the little ones who will love being in the audience. Take some time and some friends and family and head to Drury Lane this Christmas season.
Drury Lane Theatre presents “Mary Poppins” through January 19, 2020, at 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace. More information and tickets are available here.