Near West Theatre
Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!!! At last! This imaginative convergence of the classic film musical and the sophisticated children’s books by P. L. Travers comes to the Near West Theatre Stage. Julian Fellows (Downton Abbey, Gosford Park) weaves together tales of a strict and magical nanny who comes in the nick of time to an estranged family in 1910 London, England. So let’s sip a Spoonful of Sugar, Fly a Kite and Step in Time through a series of unforgettable events that forever change how the Banks family, and we too, prioritize our lives. Will Mary fly on Near West’s new stage? Chim Chim Cher-ee… come and see!
Meg Martinez as Mary Poppins
When you come see a musical at Near West Theatre, sometimes you have to remind yourselves that this is truly a community theatre. It is part of their mission statement to be as inclusive to the community as possible. In every production, the cast consists of actors that have never been on stage in their life, actors who have done shows occasionally as a hobby, and actors that have dedicated a large part of their life to the stage. This unique combination enables the Near West Theatre experience to empower individuals to soar, and enable veterans to experience what it is like to share their gifts, and recall that magic moment when they first heard an audience applaud. For many, it is a life changing moment. I can assure you, that the current production of Mary Poppins will accomplish that mantra in bold fashion.
Meg Martinez as Mary Poppins, Devon Turchin as Bert
Artistic Director/Director Bob Navis Jr has assembled an incredible production staff to create the world in which Mary Poppins lives. His artistic team provides inspiring music (Accomplished Music Director Matthew Dolan), and Choreography (Energetic Josh Landis) that will cramp every foot in the theatre from keeping time. The Technical Team has outdone themselves with this production, especially the Technical Director and Video Designer Perren Hedderson. The Opening Set Warmer is a scene that clearly states that this production has professional values that charge the audience’s batteries, and in this case, the cast delivers a fantastic charge of their own by presenting an enjoyable evening of theatre.
As someone who is quite familiar with Near West Theatre, this production has a particular strength in the depth of the leads, supporting characters, and the company. There is literally never a moment where the level of acting or characterization dips. And that is a tall order to fill, since the main characters of this production are excellent, but that doesn’t stop the par excellence from permeating the rest of the company. When I think about this show, and the characters within, it reminds me of power couples coming together to create a fantabulous, energetic, and well acted presentation of Disney magic.
Let’s start off with the magical arrival (Flying Effects provided by ZFX, Inc.) and the performance of Meg Martinez, who perfectly imbues Mary Poppins. This is that spectacular occasion when an actor and role seem to made in heaven for each other. Martinez has a phenomenal balance of maternal toughness, and an ingratiating kindness. She is the complete package to take charge of this musical and sprinkle sunshine all over the audience. She packs a powerful and clarion voice, along with acting chops for days, and she can break it down on the dance floor with the best of them. Martinez is the bomb. Speaking of the other half of this power couple is Devon Turchan, who plays Burt to the hilt. Another powerhouse performance to catapult this show into the stratosphere. Sublime acting, a beautiful, powerful vocal resonance, and dancing skills that can glide between nuanced gracefulness, to igniting every production number he is in by commendeering the situation with pure brilliantly executed joy. There is no doubt that Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke would be quite proud of these two.
Devon Turchin as Bert, Meg Martinez as Mary Poppins
Another couple that ignites the stage with their adept acting choices and characterizations, are Cory Markowitz and Andrew Narten, who play Winifred and George Banks. These two have incredible chemistry. Markowitz brings her vocal prowess and terrific acting skills making Winifred a fully fleshed out character. Her voice is capable of embodying joy and heartbreak on command with deft results. Watching her deal with the transformation of George from a dark cloud to a bright future is not dull or expected at any moment. A beautiful fresh performance. Narten brings his severe acting chops to a very difficult role. George has to move from being in a somber space, protected by an emotional wall, to someone who finds redemption in his inherent goodness that battles its way out of the dark. In the artful hands of Narten, that journey results in an impressive pitch perfect performance. Add to that, his great vocal delivery of his songs, make for a delightful evening of watching quite the delightful actor split the difference of cantankerous and lovable.
Andrew Nartan as George Banks, Cory Markowitz as Winifred Banks
The children, Jane and Michael Banks, are double cast. This reviewer saw the performances of Sophie O’Leary and Phil Pantalone. The alternating performers are Calista Zajac and Macon Taylor who perform on May 11, 12, 14, 18, and 21. O’Leary and Pantalone are delightful. Precocious as heck, they swirl around the house like animated musical theatre Roomba’s. They provide all the snarkiness and charm one could hope for. Their acting and singing are right on point, and add their own special blend of mischief and charm.
Phil Pantalone as Michael Banks, Sophie O’Leary as Jane Banks
Of course, where would we be without a dysfunctional comedic couple? Although not romantically involved, Gwen Stembridge as Mrs. Brill, and Roger Lowe as Robertson Ay, completely fit the bill. These two remind me of refined Keystone cops. Stembridge chews more scenery than carpenter ants on a three-day holiday. And Lowe is a delightful clueless mess, of which the audience can’t get enough. Although we see more of Stembridge’s joyful antics on stage, these two are the salt and pepper shakers of the house. Total Fun.
Gwen Stembridge as Mrs. Brill, Roger Lowe as Robertson Ay
Speaking of fun. Stafford Hartman is a demented beautiful hot mess of a nanny. She enters the space with full command of the stage. When she encounters Mary Poppins, their confrontation reminds me of Poppins engaging with her umbrella versus the Queen of the Night presenting her magic flute. Hartman possesses equal parts of divine demented acting, and a set of operatic chops that want me to book a cruise on the high seas. (see what I did there?). Great showcase moment.
Stafford Hartman as Miss Andrew
Now the rest are character actors that deserve a shout out, because they are the ones that really keep the show alive, when the main story characters are filling the stage with fierceness. It would be easy to rest on the laurels of the main characters, but that doesn’t happen here. Each supporting character is all in and makes an impression. Some shout-outs: Cocoa Star Price starts the show off with the exhausted Katie Nanna. Julianne Kurdila is a scream as Miss Lark. David Hopkins as Admiral Boom. Park Keeper Sam Pantalone does great work, even getting zapped by Poppins. Steven Walker is a hot grey mess as Neleus. Rebecca Riffle-Polito is impressively stoic, and eventually grateful as the Bank Chairwoman. The song “Feed the Birds” is delivered with somber reality by Angie Bendahan, the Bird Woman. And then, Amani Green starts off the audience showstopper “Supercali………………..” with zest and gusto. Bob Zombar as Von Hussler and Nick Leverknight as Northbrook, show the worst and best of the corporate entrepeneur. The rest of the company is wonderful. They take every moment and play the truth with zeal and focus.
Near West Theatre, under the artistic vision of Bob Navis Jr, definitely has a major success on their hands, and production values to match. Music Director Matthew Dolan has put together a kick butt band with accomplished musicians. Joshua Landis has outdone himself with beautiful staging and a chimney sweep number that will have you cheering several times. Production Manager Michael Stein has coordinated a very talented team: Stage Manager Ryan Wolf, Technical Director and Video Designer Perren Hedderson, Set Designer Cameron Michalak, Scenic Charge Artist Jenny Hitmar Shankland, Lighting Designers Adam Ditzal and Stein, Sound Designer Josh Caraballo, and the excellent Costume Design work of Sarah Russell.
There are some minor observations regarding the production. I thought some scenes might be a little more downstage. Some of the spoken dialogue, especially when whispered or brought down, was hard to hear. I thought the time between Mary Poppins landing and when she enters the house, needed more stage business to cover the silence that I experienced. The Prologue number was overshadowed a bit by too much clanking of instruments that were hung around Bert’s neck. I wouldn’t want too much to distract from that beautiful voice. But these are minor observations, because you will only remember the joy of this production.
And can I just say, wait until the Carousel!
Congratulations Near West Theatre. This is a great family show. The next two Sundays are Sold Out! This is one of the best of what Near West Theatre can do, because this theatre really does believe that ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN, IF YOU LET IT!
Photo Credit: Mark Horner
Thru May 21st.
3pm Sundays (No performance 5/7)
$8-$10 General Admission, Reserved Star Seats $25
Order Tickets Online
Near West Theatre
6702 Detroit Ave.
Cleveland, OH 44102