It appears that Broadway producer Cameron Mackintosh and Disney chose wisely when they entrusted their stage musical “Mary Poppins” to Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre.
Co-directors Roger Welch and Rommy Sandhu – himself a veteran of “Poppins” on Broadway – made every correct decision in bringing this big show to North Idaho, from costumes and sets to (most importantly) casting. It’s a production that really rises above the flaws in the source material.
The best decision Welch made was in casting Mallory King as Mary Poppins. King, who was Dorothy in CST’s “The Wizard of Oz” two years ago, is simply excellent. Her singing voice is flawless, and she handles those iconic songs – “A Spoonful of Sugar” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” among them – with ease and grace. Everything from the way she holds herself onstage to her facial expressions indicates she has a deep understanding of the character. It’s a remarkable performance from a talented actress and is worth the price of admission alone.
As is typical of a Coeur d’Alene production, there’s plenty more to like. Christian Duhamel as Bert the chimney sweep is delightful. He brings mischievousness to the role along with formidable singing and dancing skills. The crowning technical achievement of “Mary Poppins” comes in Act II during “Step in Time,” when Bert walks up the wall and dances on the ceiling. He pulls it off with aplomb and got a well-deserved extended applause from Friday’s audience.
Unfortunately, Duhamel’s microphone stopped working for most of “Step in Time.” The sound system had cut out a few times in the first act, but never for the duration of a production number. It was a distraction from an otherwise-excellent scene.
Rounding out the primary cast are the members of the Banks family: Kirk Mouser as George, Ellery Sandhu as Winifred, Tiger Ashtiani as Michael and Tai Sandhu as Jane. Mouser is a CST favorite as an actor and director. He plays George Banks perfectly: He’s a man who craves “precision and order” only because that’s all he’s ever known. Ellery Sandhu, making her CST debut, is lovely as the frustrated but loyal Winifred. Ashtiani also is excellent, bringing the right amount of childhood wonder and petulance to the role.
Understudy Tai Sandhu – Rommy and Ellery Sandhu’s 6-year-old daughter – was called in when Sophie Anderson became ill. What the little girl lacked in the precision of her dance steps she more than made up for in charm and spunk. Her father told me during intermission that she’d been born as the Broadway production was beginning technical rehearsals, so she’s been around the play her entire life. Friday marked her first time acting in it, and she was darling.
Two other standout performances come from Tamara Schupman as the Bird Woman and Krista Kubicek as Miss Andrew. Schupman and King’s duet in “Feed the Birds” is quite lovely, as both women have wonderful voices that play nicely together. And Kubicek is a bit of comic relief as the nasty nanny Miss Andrew.
Really, my biggest complaint about “Mary Poppins” has nothing to do with CST. The play itself feels at least two songs too long, especially in the first act. I first saw “Mary Poppins” when Best of Broadway brought it to Spokane a couple years ago. Even then, I thought the fabulous “Supercali” – with its elaborate choreography and energetic performance of a classic song – felt like the natural end to Act I. Instead, there are four more songs, including “Playing the Game,” in which the Banks children learn to be nice to their toys. It’s the number when children in the audience are apt to get fidgety.
Regardless, CST’s “Mary Poppins” is worth spending time with. Grab your umbrella and fly away.