It may have been the unseasonal spring breeze or the sweet laughter of a dozen young ladies holding white umbrellas, but my stroll down the cobblestones of Church Street to the historic Dock Street Theater was foreshadowing of a magical evening where I would meet, Mary Poppins for the first time.
Let us for a moment fast forward to the conclusion of the play. It is a rare sight when an audience’s standing ovation transitions directly into a choral sing along. To the clapping and chanting of Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, the audience of children and adults alike joined the cast in a theater-wide celebration of life, family and youth. It was a joyful moment of exuberance that sent shivers from aisle to aisle. Characters joined the patrons in the aisles, dancing and singing until the final moments of the two hour and fifteen-minute production.
The Charleston Stage musical live adaptation of Mary Poppins is nothing short of artistic precision on a musical canvas. The vibrant colors of cherry blossoms in London and the welcoming teal of the children’s bedroom underscored a masterful set design that welcomes the audience into the magical world of Mary Poppins.
Barbara Young’s costume design swept the audience away to turn of the century England with its proper attire and class distinctions, rounding out the character personalities perfectly.
The use of strings for floating props and dramatic entrances played a critical supporting role in the production. The audience stood in awe at the edge of their seats as Mary arrived from the sky. During a wonderful musical number, Bert, played with lovable delight by Nathan Burke, scaled the walls dazzling a child in the audience who yelled out, “He’s on strings!” Even with that comment, the magical tricks of live theatre could not take away the feeling of wonderment.
Every child and adult found themselves humming or softly singing along to “A Spoonful of Sugar” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” yet the number that delighted me most was “Step in Time “in Act II. High on the rooftop, with an ensemble cast of chimney sweepers, Mary and Bert reminded us of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire with a comical ensemble flurry of Chaplin mixed in. It was a memorable and well-choreographed scene by Cara Dolan. Showing how the simple class worker could rejoice in the celebration of life high above on the rooftops, almost touching the stars, was an important element to the plays message of acceptance and happiness.
The picturesque Talk Shop / Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious scene deserves special mention. Here we are introduced to Mrs. Corey, a charming woman who never ages and runs the Talking Shop. With the use of letters, colorful costumes, playful and educational mayhem, that scene was a delight to witness as the audience members found themselves singing along
Veruka Salomone and Tyler Caplea as Jane and Michael Banks took on the extraordinary task of playing two young children in a home void of love, transforming through the magical world of Mary Poppins into a period of enlightenment. Their awakening from a conscious sleep and discovering the value of family, love and acceptance was the pivotal message of this play. Through the eyes of Mary Poppins, they found feelings hidden within themselves. In this enlightenment, George Banks, the children’s father played by Patrick Tierney, rediscovered a youth he thought he lost forever.
With a subtle smile and firm confidence, Carin Lagerberg played the the role of Mary Poppins perfectly. The complex character, made famous by the great Julie Andrews, requires an actress who authentically exudes firm discipline, a warm heart and a deep understanding of the value of family. Lagerberg made us believe she truly was Poppins, entering the lives of the Banks children and giving them what we all yearn for; a feeling of being loved.
Throughout the performance, Mary’s character introduced us all to her magical world. In the end, it wasn’t her flying umbrella, endless bag of props, or ability to bring stuffed animals and toys to life that won us over. It was her classy and beautiful way of reminding us that we are all young and innocent with the same desires for love and imagination.
Looking around, I watched children peering up at their parents and smiling, pointing to the stage, laughing, singing and curling up in their parents’ arms. Sometimes, you experience something that puts you in a better place. Charleston Stage’s production of Mary Poppins is both entertaining and a valuable reminder of why we should love our family and stay young as long as we can.