Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Mary Poppins is one of those rare musicals where children and grandparents alike will applaud no matter what happens onstage. The moment Mary Poppins soars above the stage: applause. After Bert and the chimney sweeps dance: applause. After a raucous, intricate dance number to “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”: lots and lots (almost too much) applause. But it’s the musical’s je ne sais quoi that keeps audiences clapping along for almost three hours.
The standout performance was unsurprisingly that of Mary Poppins, played by Lindsey Bliven — a veteran of the national tour of Mary Poppins. While her voice worried me at the beginning, Bliven’s Poppins voice grew sturdier throughout the show and was brilliant by the show’s finale, “Anything Can Happen.” Blivens played Mary as endearingly cheeky, relating to all ages as jokes for the older generations are scattered throughout the show.
And complementing Bliven’s Mary was Jeffrey Coon’s portrayal of George Banks, a man who spends more time at the bank than with his own children. Like Bliven, Coon’s voice grew throughout the show similar to his character. As Coon’s Banks grew closer to his children with a little help from Poppins and the re-appearance of his strict childhood nanny played by Deborah Jean Templin, his vocal ability better shone through — eventually culminating in a heartwarming “A Man Has Dreams (reprise)” where Coon sings, “It’s Mary Poppins! From the moment she stepped into the house, things began to happen to me!”
But these actors are just two reasons why this two-hour and forty-five minute show went by so quickly. Linda Goodrich’s choreography was surprisingly diverse. With numbers based in ballet, jazz, and tap, Goodrich’s choreography kept audiences engaged, unsure of what each number would bring. In “Step in Time”, chimney sweeps tap dance for almost six minutes straight while singing one of the show’s most notable tunes.
One of the standout numbers in the show was “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” which reminded me of a troupe of singing high school drill team members hyped up on four shots of espresso. The delightful choreography combined with the high-energy voice of Ellie Mooney — who plays Mrs. Correy, owner of a magical sweet shop — made this one of the show’s most memorable numbers that audiences left the Walnut Street Theatre humming after the show.
While all of the above can often lead to a good show, the extravagant designs from Mary Poppins’s design team whisked audiences away into the show’s magical world. J Branson’s scenic design and George Mitchell’s costume design were bright, cartoon-ish, and dramatic. During intermission, I found myself wondering where all of the sets were stored during the show as so many large set pieces seamlessly move on and off the stage. Mitchell had hard work ahead of him when he took on this production as the musical had what seemed to be hundreds of costumes. From costumes that transformed actors into statues and an entire set of life-size dolls to more traditional costumes for London’s bankers, Mitchell successfully dressed the company to truly represent the dichotomy between rainy London and the magical world that Poppins ushers in.
Walnut Street Theatre’s production of Mary Poppins is a delightful musical for all ages, and a nice escape from Swarthmore’s final season. The show is playing through January 4th and tickets are available at http://www.walnutstreettheatre.org/.
Photos courtesy of Mark Garvin/Walnut Street Theatre