Mary Poppins
A musical based on the stories of P.L. Travers and the Walt Disney Film
Shoctor Stage, Citadel Theatre, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada through April 20, 2014
Ticket information. (Buy quickly. This show is going to sell out, especially at the low-end $35 rate)


Posted at March 21, 2014
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How wondrous the Citadel/Theatre Calgary stage production of Mary Poppins (The Broadway Musical)!

How mysterious that Mary Poppins, despite the 1964 Walt Disney movie, the West End/Broadway production of 10 years ago, and at least five songs that have burned their way into the memories of most of the English-speaking world, remains a lesser figure in the pantheon of favourite children’s fictional characters. At least that’s the case in North America. The original book of Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers, didn’t travel well across the Atlantic, and the entire Mary Poppins’ series (eight books) made nary a dent on the North American consciousness.

We don’t know Mary Poppins.

We know the songs – I defy you to deny you can’t hum the melodies from A Spoonful of Sugar, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, Chim Chiminey, Let’s Go Fly A Kite and Step in Time.

We know Julie Andrews moved from stage to movie stardom as Mary Poppins in the Disney film, and then moved immediately to film super-stardom in a remarkably similar role, just the next year, as Maria in the Sound of Music.

We know the irrepressible Dick Van Dyke – his portrayal of Bert in the film is equally burned into our memories, especially his dancing, crazy accent and wide-eyed cheerfulness. (Van Dyke is now 88, according to Wikipedia – as a widower, he re-married in 2012.)

We know the central image – what today we call the visual “brand” of the show – of  Mary Poppins floating down from the sky, umbrella as parachute.

But do you remember the plot of Mary Poppins? Cherry Tree Lane? The Banks Family?

Probably not.

What you will realize, about five minutes into this production, is that it’s one of the best all-ages theatrical musicals of contemporary times … and that the creative team behind this co-production have realized every detail possible to create this  tour de force.

The acting, singing and dancing are marvels to behold: Blythe Wilson returns to the Citadel in the title role after a long absence, during which she played the meaty supporting actress role of Mrs. Banks (Kate Ryan in the current show) on Broadway. No faltering here, she fits the role of the prim, proper, mischievous and mystical Mary to a T.

Andrew MacDonald-Smith – a regular at the Mayfield Dinner Theatre and lighter Edmonton Opera productions – tones down the Dick Van Dyke role in a pleasing way, offering a rather soothing texture in a razzle-dazzle show.

Few big-budget musicals dare to rely so much on child-actors as does Mary Poppins, but these two Banks’ children are nothing short of fantastic. Jack Forestier is a nine-year-old Edmontonian – previously known as a 7-year-old fiddler in his family band – with great acting chops, a fine voice, and a bang-on English accent.  Eleven-year-old Zasha Rabie as Jane is more experienced, but the Okotoks Strathcona Tweedsmuir School student, is just as talented. The duo is utterly believable as an English brother and sister living in a stern Victorian-era family.

Susan Gilmour – happily living in her hometown of Edmonton after decades of touring based out of Toronto - chews up the scenery with her several cameos, mostly noticeably as the “holy terror” evil governess Miss Andrew and the befuddled Bird Woman.

The sets are magnificent – equal to the spectacular scenery of the Citadel’s annual Christmas Carol with equal amounts of trickery. The sets seamlessly integrate into this show as a whole – the small details that separate four-star very good from five-star excellence.  The demanding lighting throughout the show is quite perfect.

The dancing is just so much fun. The chimney sweeps doing their balletic soft-shoe during Step In Time has the whole audience grinning from ear to ear.  And what a luxury to have a live orchestra, under the direction of Citadel music maestro and show music director Don Horsburgh.

This show is so big, so complex, with such a large cast that it’s a wonder it can fit into the budgets of the Citadel and Theatre Calgary. There’s room between the two productions – Mary Poppins closes in Edmonton on April 20, opens in Calgary on May 6, that maybe, just maybe, a few more shows can be added to the Edmonton run.

The plot?  Well you’ll just have to go and see the show. It’s about imagination versus rigid reality, the power of familial love, unexpected events all orchestrated by the mystical but mischievous Mary Poppins, who, one would think,  had to be an inspiration to J.K. Rowling as she created Harry Potter.

If you enjoy musical theatre, don’t you dare miss this show.  It’s one of the very best musicals ever produced on an Edmonton stage, including just about every touring show that packs the Jubilee Auditorium.

 At opening night, the audience couldn’t wait to jump to its feet, applauding with the kind of gusto reserved for nothing but the best.