“Mary Poppins” Flies High on Charm & Mature Talent in SLOC’s Youth Production
If “Mary Poppins” is a favorite of yours, you won’t be disappointed with what the hard-working kids in the cast of SLOC’s production have done with it. Schenectady Light Opera Company is offering a bewitchingly beautiful production of “Disney and Cameron Mackintosh’s Mary Poppins” through November 17th. The stage adaptation is the only Disney theatrical production to originate in London, fittingly enough. It opened on Broadway in 2006 and ran for over 6 years using songs from the beloved 1964 film by the Sherman Brothers (Richard M. and Robert B.) plus additional songs by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. The new book is by Julian Fellowes of “Downton Abbey” fame.
The chimney sweep Bert (the irresistible Jake Goodman) opens the show and serves throughout as commentator on the action, surprisingly at the top of the show with definite notes of menace. The Banks Family at 17 Cherry Tree Lane is in an uproar as the musical opens as another housekeeper Katie Nanna (Olivia Pierotti) storms off, fed up with the antics of the children Michael (John P. Murphy) and Jane (Hannah Countermine) who, frankly, are about the most lovely troubled children in all of stage literature. The Banks children write their own advertisement for “The Perfect Nanny” which their father George (the initially splenetic Scout Santoro) promptly tears up and we see it float up the chimney in a nice magical bit similar to HMT’s “Mamma Mia” flying letters.
The torn pages do the trick as they deliver Mary Poppins, embodied by Claire Flynn. As for the magic, there are neat tricks with her bottomless handbag and the design team (especially the costumes by Kelly Sanford, current SLOC President & Cheryl Zatt) do a lot to convey the whimsy of the piece but the kids carry the spirit of the piece and no one more so than Claire Flynn. She is remarkable. Poised, polished and persuasively powerful, “Practically Perfect” is her introduction and you may disagree with the qualifier. That a Capital Region senior in high school is commanding the stage in this role is all the astonishment you could wish for, you can keep your flying apparatus. So economical are her gestures, she will win you over with the crook of her finger pointing to a dropped bag of bird feed by Michael. Her stature and bearing in this part are astonishing and might just make you forget the Oscar winner in this role, so powerful and different is Claire.
Jake Goodman is a goer as her match Bert and a welcome guide to the evening. If he doesn’t have as much to do or space to do it in as in his star turn this summer in Park Playhouse’s “Newsies,” he easily commands our attention throughout and rewards us with his megawatt smile. Everyone in the cast acquits themselves admirably with beautiful singing from Emory Garber on “Being Mrs. Banks,” Elaina Murdock on “Feed the Birds,” and Blake Zardezed on “Brimstone & Treacle.” Scout Santoro does a great job showing off a different side of Mr. Banks with “A Man Has Dreams” after spending the first act very angry. Ian Justino surprises with his singing late in the show and he and Allie Seebode have fun moments as the household staff. Choreographer Abby Todd does a nice job with the large chorus but they could have used more room to move or fewer of them. Perhaps the second floor could have been utilized in the large numbers, especially “Step in Time” as that has turned into the roofs of London. Reprising the hand gestures of “Supercalifagilisticexpialidocious” in the curtain call is great fun.
Suzanne Rayome has taken on the reins as director of another Youth production and she has done an excellent job, especially in the casting of her leads. The cast is engaged and engaging throughout the show and I was captivated by the eagerness and ability of the large cast of 32. SLOC maestros Adrienne Sherman and Michael Camelo are the very best and share the title of Music Director for this show with Michael conducting superbly and Adrienne playing keyboards leading the seven-piece pit. The vocals throughout the evening were excellent and I especially liked the chorus’s work on “Feed the Birds” although they were extremely pleasant throughout.
The entire stage is taken up by the very attractive Banks house and there’s a nice use of a second level as the children’s bedroom, design by the director and Dale Clark. The stage will transform somewhat throughout the night with numerous scene changes briskly handled by the stage crew and accompanied by the band led by Michael with one change serenaded by the chimney sweeps. I wish that the changes were not just stage hands acquitting themselves in the dark (well done as they are, stage managed by Elizabeth Corey and Debbie Paniccia) but used as opportunities to move the story forward or provide their own magic. But these are minor reservations.
I would highly recommend SLOC’s production of “Mary Poppins” as it showcases so many of the fantastically talented young people of the Capital Region. The magic of the show is conveyed by the preternaturally gifted and supernaturally mature talents especially Mary Poppins herself. Chim-chiminy-chim-cheree!