Beck Center for the Arts
Professional Theatre
There is no doubt, that Mary Poppins is the reigning queen of the Holiday theatrical season. Especially, when it comes to the Beck Center for the Arts. Mary Poppins has left Annie and the Orphans, Joseph and his Technicolor Coat, and any other holiday production that dared enter the holiday race, in her dust. In fact, this production has made history by being 90% sold out for the entire run, as of opening night. There is power in the title, and kudos to Artistic Director Scott Spence for securing the rights for the mega musical, and also, adding more enticing titles to the Beck Center season, that are not the usual fare.
For those of you who have been struck by lighting and have a memory loss, Mary Poppins is the lead character in a series of eight children’s books written over the period of 1934 to 1968, by P. L. Travers. The books center on a fabulous magical nanny, Mary Poppins, as she is blown by the East wind to Number Seventeen Cherry Tree Lane, London, and into the Banks’s household to care for their children. Encounters with chimney sweeps, shopkeepers and various adventures follow, until Mary Poppins feels it is time to leave after the Banks have learned valuable lessons. You may remember that the books were adapted by Walt Disney in 1964, into a musical film starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. For the stage musical, Original Music and Lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman. Book by Jullian Fellowes. New Songs and Additional Music and Lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe.

In the current show, Chimney sweep extraordinaire Bert (Matthew Ryan Thompson), introduces us to the troubled Banks family, headed up by George Banks (Curt Arnold) and Winifred Banks (Katherine DeBoer*). Young Jane ( Anna Barrett) and Michael (Joseph Daso), have sent many a nanny packing before Mary Poppins (Rebecca Pitcher*) arrives on their doorstep. Using a combination of magic and common sense, she must teach the family how to value each other again. Mary Poppins takes the children on many magical and memorable adventures, but Jane and Michael aren’t the only ones she has a profound effect upon. Even grown-ups can learn a lesson or two from the nanny who advises that “anything can happen, if you let it.”

Esteemed Director Scott Plate has done an excellent job of casting a very talented cast. I was especially impressed with the children, Barrett and Daso. Their characterizations were wonderful and on point, as they held themselves up against a plethora of Broadway talent and local veterans. They were a central connection with the audience, and created a lot of enjoyment. Another energetic connection came from Aimee Collier, while playing Miss Andrew, the cruel nanny who has and addition with castor oil as a tool for obedience, and Mrs. Corry, a big haired cartoon who sells conversations. The rest of the characters in the play do a fine job of inhabiting their characters, but they almost do it too well. They play the dysfunctional aspects of their character consistently, without allowing themselves to have any element of comedic embellishment. So in Act One we are introduced to Arnold, expertly playing an emotionally shut off father and husband. We meet DeBoer, expertly playing an emotionally abused wife, who has to listen to her husband say “It’s your job to be Mrs. Banks.” And then we meet Pitcher, who expertly plays Mary Poppins with spit spot, almost military focus. I say expertly about all of these actors, because they are really good, I just wanted them to be more fun. At the end of Act One, I was a little depressed thinking how this family needs so much love to empower all of them to heal themselves and each other, because the amusement level of the piece didn’t seem to be at the forefront of the direction. Thompson expertly played Bert. He is a splendid triple threat, and one of the most engaging performers in the area. But even he was given or took a path that didn’t spark and dazzle, it just was really pleasant, but not care free. So my overall feel about the show is that I wished there was more joy throughout the show.

Now, having said that, the ticket sales tell their own story, and I can tell you that the little girl who was sitting two seats over from me had an aneurysm every time Mary Poppins appeared on stage. And that is the joy of this piece, as you sit in the audience. Hearing these kids go nuts for Mary Poppins is a gift to the soul which is incredibly empowering and wonderful. It was also great to see Peggy Gibbons performing as the Bird Woman. Her voice is a gift, as she tenderly sang “Feed the Birds.”

Some of my favorites observations were listening to Pitcher unleash her elegant and powerful vocals. When she starred in “She Loves Me” at Beck previously, the songs were gorgeous, but here, there are some tunes where her vocal prowess is astonishing (I am a sucker for belting), and would certainly make The Phantom invest in an umbrella himself. The travelling bag was a fantastic sight gag, which was beautifully executed. It was so much fun to watch endless items of length and size come magically out. The “flying technique” that was invented for this production was very original and fun. I loved how the nasty nanny ended up in a bird-cage. The set design of a backdrop of umbrellas was very cool, and the projections were impressive.

Musical Director Larry Goodpaster’s orchestra knocks it out of the park once again. Such a beautiful strong sound, and expertly in tune and in sync with the show. Goodpaster has assembled an amazing array of deft musicians. As far as the Choreography in the show, for the first time ever, I thought Martin Cespedes dance was played very safe. There were no barn burners here, just pleasant movement, but nothing that seemed bright and inventive and surprising. Cespedes is one of the kings of dance here in Cleveland, but his work here seemed uninspired. He is known for having the talent to make any group of dancers, no matter what their talent level, look good, They did look good, but not electrifying. Jeff Herman created a fabulous Scenic Design. The scenes were effective, fun and interesting. The Lighting Design by Dennis Dugan had its ups and downs. A major distraction was there seemed to be no front lighting, just side lighting, so every time cast members came downstage, their faces had shadows. Also, there was a lot of green light in the bedroom all the time. But that also spilled over to Mr. Banks office, since there seemed to be a green light that would catch him. However, having a stage with a tremendous amount of open space and solid background, makes it difficult to light colorfully. But, lighting the umbrella backdrop, made up for a lot. Costume Designer Aimee Kluiber did a nice job creating some beautiful looks. It seemed off that Collier’s costumes and make up, were so different from everything else in the show, but that just may be me. Sound Designer Carlton Guc produced an excellent experience. Video Designer Mike Tujaj did great work on the umbrella canvas. Technical Director Joseph Carmola did an excellent job of bringing the elements together. Stage Manager Libby White called a great show.

Overall, this is a nice production. All through this production, Mary Poppins clasps her hands together in a tight position, as she dispenses her magic. I just hope that as the run progresses, it doesn’t take itself so seriously, and Poppins and the main characters can unclasp themselves a bit.

** Member of the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers

*Member appears courtesy of the Actors’ Equity Association (AEA)

December 5 – January 4

7:30pm Fridays
2:30pm and 7:30pm Saturdays (no 7:30pm Show on 12/20)
2:30pm Sundays

$12-$29 Reserved Seating
(216) 521-2540
Order Tickets Online

Beck Center for the Arts
17801 Detroit Avenue
Lakewood, Ohio 44107

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