IF YOU GO
What: Musical based on the beloved 1964 Julie Andrews film
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 2 p.m. & 8 p.m. Saturday; 1 p.m. & 6:30 p.m. Sunday (Jan. 15-20)
Where: Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall, 13350 Edison Parkway, Fort Myers
Cost: $80, $65, $55, $45
Information: Call 481-4849 or go to bbmannpah.com
Something Else: Parking is sometimes chaotic because of evening classes at Edison College. Park farther out and escape the after-show traffic jams.
On the Web: Sign up to receive more theater news from the Stage Door blog via email.
FORT MYERS — "Mary Poppins" floated into Fort Myers Tuesday. Audiences get gorgeous sets, a trilling soprano and chimney sweeps on parade. The delightful show offers plenty of thrills, but a more adult storyline lacks some of the pure whimsy and charm of the Disney film. Perhaps another spoonful of sugar?
The musical version of "Mary Poppins" opened on London's West End in 2004; it was an immediate smash hit. The musical draws on material from the original 1964 Disney film and the series of P.L. Travers book about a magical English nanny.
"Downton Abbey" creator Julian Fellowes wrote the book for this new version. The musical aims for a more sophisticated plot line, featuring the Banks family in crisis and more emphasis on Mr. Banks. Jane and Michael Banks are far more troublesome. Some songs - like "Spoonful of Sugar" and "Feed the Birds" have been moved or re-imagined.
"Mary Poppins" still entertains on a grand, even majestic, scale. Disney and Cameron Mackintosh fashion a spectacular, awe-inspiring set that folds and unfolds like a giant pop-up storybook. I had only one thought as the Banks house emerged from the back wall of the stage and the wings flipped open - "Wow!"
The cold, gray, dim neighborhood park transforms in a second to a surrealist garden in bloom. A Crayola box of colors explodes, statues come to life, magnificent costumes sweep the stage and more during "Jolly Holiday." Look for the cameo from a penguin, a nod to the film.
"Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" is re-imagined as a visit to the magical Mrs. Corry's shop; I dare you not to tap your feet here - or fight the urge to leap up and start dancing.
For all the magic, fun and visual treats though, the show feels like a constant battle. Anything with Mary Poppins, Bert, Jane and Michael soars. Anything with the Banks' marital troubles seems like a dour domestic duet lifted from another show.
"Mary Poppins" leans awfully hard on the "let's learn a lesson here tonight" stick, sometimes to the show's detriment. The scenes add depth - but most of the time you just want them to be over so Mary Poppins and her bag of tricks comes back on stage.
Madeline Trumble trills and thrills as the titular soprano. She plays the role with obvious nods to Julie Andrews, but with a fresh, comical brashness that's updated for this millennium. Audiences will love the gorgeous "Spoonful of Sugar" and the showdown with big, bad nanny Miss Andrew (Karen Murphy) and her "Brimstone and Treacle."
Con O'Shea-Creal absolutely delights as Bert. The actor visibly lifts the life on the stage with every appearance. His huge smile and immense stage presence, along with incredible chemistry with Trumble, go a long way toward making this "Mary Poppins" a success.
The night's best number - by far - sees Mary and the kids visit Bert on the rooftop. There, O'Shea-Creal leads the magical tap number "Step in Time" across the rooftops of London - and upside down across the proscenium arch of the theater. Of all the big, bold, beautiful moments in "Mary Poppins," "Step in Time" and technicolor fantasy "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" come closest to capturing the whimsy of Disney's celluloid magic.
Major points too to Julianna Rigoglioso (Jane Banks) and Eli Tokash (Michael Banks), the rare child actors to hold their own against adults. The pair give surprising depth to the children's roles and allow the audience to see their obvious joy in performing. Look too for superior comedy from Tregoney Shepherd as the exasperated Mrs. Brill, the rosy-cheeked and over-worked and over-excited "domestic" at the Banks household.
Magical? Of course. Magnificent? Certainly. Beautiful? Jaw-dropping? Super-duper? Why yes! Completely satisfying? Maybe. There's a lot to love in "Mary Poppins." The classic tunes and stunning visual treats retain every bit of their charm, while a first-rate cast serves up a great show. The story being presented on stage just isn't there at times. For every high-flying kite, there's a rainstorm on the horizon.
What's your favorite song from "Mary Poppins?" Email me, email@example.com. Email me, firstname.lastname@example.org, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.