A SPOONFUL OF SUGAR IS A DELIGHT AND POPPINS IS A SURE WINTER BEST THAT IS “PRACTICALLY PERFECT”
Mary Poppins soars into San Francisco Playhouse with an excellent production of this Disney classic. This production of "MARY POPPINS" is now at the Post Street stage through Jan 12th. 17 Cherry Tree Lane is the perfect street to visit this Holiday season. Those who may think you have outgrown her magic umbrella need to return to see her carpet bag full of tricks; it is a bit darker than we remember. This musical is for the entire family. The cast is high-spirited and talented, and this production team brings the Banks family to a “Practically Perfect” Holiday season tradition at the SFPH.
The new film that opened in November based on Mary 30 years later “Mary Poppins Returns”, with Lin Manuel and Emily Blunt in the lead rolls. The film is doing well and help hype the need to see a real flying Nanny at the Post street stage. A Bay Area favorite SFPH Artistic Director Bill English says about the enchanting Nanny “The version of Mary Poppins that we present hews much closer to the original spirit of P.L. Tavers’ book than the Disney Film, Tavers was more interested about the evils of the class structure in England”. English and Director Susi Damilano have assembled a 16 member cast that is delighting local audiences. “It’s a cherished memory of mine—as a 5 year old huddled with my cousins, captivated in front of the television watching the Disney film of Mary Poppins,” says director Damilano. “Mary Poppins was remarkable with her open invitation to believe that anything is possible while nurturing the power of imagination, inspiring both children and adults. I want to bring that experience to San Francisco audiences this holiday season."
Damilano provides energetic and spirited staging, and brings the tender connections of the characters yet still gives this Banks family a nice edge. It is visually stunning and it can be a difficult task to bring the iconic British Nanny, Mary Poppins, to that practically perfect charm, but this company does. The beaming diverse El Beh is excellent as Mary, and has a soaring voice that makes her mysterious Umbrella entrance the event of the Holiday season. Her side kick enduring friend Bert the Chimney sweep is played by the energized and talented Wiley Naman Strasser.
MARY POPPINS is a creation of Julian Fellows of “Downton Abbey” fame, along with composers Robert and Richard Sherman who launched the musical back in 2004-- crossing the best parts of the Disney film and the original P.L. Travers books. The terrific Beh plays the magically eccentric nanny, Mary Poppins. Beh has the right charm and that mischievous wit, and voice that carries to the back balcony of the San Francisco Playhouse. The talented ensemble’s impressive charm brings a festive color and comedy to this Disney musical.
The two children, Jane and Michael Banks, who are on stage most of the two and half hour adventure, perform the most difficult two roles for two preteen actors. They are well played by four talented youths, Grace Hutton, Ruth Keith, Billy Hutton and the energetic David Ruklin. Opening night Rukin and Keith were impressive and non stop energy as they open the story with “The Perfect Nanny” listing their wants in their next baby sitter. All the children actors have angelic voices and their timing with the lovely Beh is impeccable.
The story combines the best elements that film fans remember like “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” “A Spoonful of Sugar” and “Let’s Go Fly a Kite”, "Jolly Holiday" and the story of the Banks family who, despite their well off lifestyle, seem to be unhappy until their new nanny arrives. The two Banks’ children, both young actors carry the show well like pro’s, the pre teens are on stage 90% of this two hour thirty min two act show. The dapper SFPH local favorite, Ryan Drummond, plays their dad George Banks, who is more interested in his work than his children. Drummond’s solo song “A Man Has His Dreams” shows off his fine voice in this darker edge to the Poppins story. “Cherry Tree Lane” featuring the family and downstairs staff Mrs Brill and Robertson played with splendid comic timing by Marie Shell and the wonderful Rod Voltaire Edora all set the tone for rise and fall of the Banks’ home.
Beh who is the most delightful Poppins I have seen, matches her professional charm with the talented, Wiley Naman Strasse, who plays the street artist and chimney sweep Bert. The two have the “Chim Chim Cher-ee” chemistry especially in the two show stopping numbers “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and “Step in Time”. These two full ensemble musical numbers are both stunning, choreographed by the dynamic Kimberly Richards, “Step in Time” is a show stopper, and features some creative style high stepping missing from the Broadway tour.
The elegant Abby Haug is engaging as Mrs Banks as she takes the journey from a helpless mom to empowered wife, and she sparkles in “Good for Nothing Being Mrs Banks”. Strasser is charming as Bert and has a excellent voice in “All My Own Work” as he sings in the park before meeting the Banks children. Dancer and silent enchanted statue Neleus was a highlight played by the graceful Dominic Dagdagan in “Jolly Holiday”.
Damilano keeps the show moving yet with a darker edge, and award winning set designer Nina Ball has created a clever set that moves from the Banks’ home to the rooftop settings on a smooth turntable stage. Ball brings this musical to life with a compelling set that opens like pages in a story book. Most impressive is the rooftop chimneys and space for Bert’s famous dance, that blend so well on her keen set. The beautiful pastel compelling setting was painted by the marvelous scenic artists Karen McNulty, Christina Anselmo, and Kat Bausch.
The children's bedroom and family living room set pieces move with ease to make the first act very colorful. The open park scene makes those kites fly like a charm all through the sold out Playhouse theatre. As the set turns, lighting designer Theodore J.H.Hulsker has created some spellbinding projections that only can be seen as the house and park turn, its very awesome. The stunning seven member off stage orchestra is under the direction of Katie Coleman keeps and keeps Cherry Tree Lane warm with the charming classics. Hulsker is also the sound designer, all the featured magic was vibrant including the chirping birds in “Feed The Birds”. Damilano’s direction brings a darker side to this Poppins as the song “Playing the Game” was added. This features most of the ensemble players who bring the children's abused toys to life in a song and dance that the Disney writers steered from. I like seeing this number for the first time, and it highlights Abra Berman’s costume design.
Other numbers are all staged well, "Chim Chim Cher-ee," the memorable "Feed the Birds" featuring the endearing Katrina Lauren McGraw surrounded peeping animated birds created by Jacquelyn Scott and Bethany Wu. The props including the kites all worked like magic for the many flying scenes in the show, designed by Scott and Wu. The effects for this show have to be exaggerated and special effects director Mike Martinez brings the “Pop” to all the tricks and treats in this show. The kitchen has to magically clean itself and the craft team for this production is outstanding. Mary’s bag is always fun full of life size hat stands and tables. The sold out opening weekend crowd was pleased. Designer Ball’s Cherry Tree Lane home and the rooftop, park and childrens bedroom is on point especially capturing the magic of Poppins’ magic bag.
Light designer Patrick Toebe uses just enough color and follow spots to add that rich texture to give his work the depth for Mary’s flight and Bert’s show stopping “The Winds May Blow”. The colorful mood of the show is highlighted by the brilliant costumes designed by Berman and wigs by Laundra Tyme. The company is sizzling in pastels and detailed period gowns, chimney sweep garb, strolls in the park summer wear and the powder white statues. Most impressive is the “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” romp, the cast was dressed in eye popping colors. Berman has her cast brightly suited and dapper for this number. The number also includes the impressive magic shopkeeper, Mrs Corry, played by the superb Sohoa LaPaglia.
Most of new songs by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe fit in well with the old ones, including the climactic "Anything Can Happen," heartwarming and sincere by Beh, Strasser and the children. The supporting cast all meet the energetic needs of this Disney classic. Mother Banks is played by the accomplished Aubry Haug and brings passion to her solo “Being Mrs Banks”. Mrs Brill, the cook, is played with just the right touch of cockney comic timing by Marie Shell. The splendid Edora also plays the Park Keeper, and is always smooth and brilliant on stage; he is highlighted in “Let's Go Fly a Kite” superbly choreographed by Richards. The feisty Anthony Rollins-Mullens is cast in the older male roles as Admiral Boom, and Bank Chairman. The gifted dancers and ensemble; Rudy Guerrero, Kathryn Han, Dominic Dagdagan, and Catrina Manahan, as always add their classic charm to all their roles.
The fun villain of the show, the versatile McGraw transforms into Mr. Banks’ former nanny, the evil bully Miss Andrew. “Brimstone and Treacle” is Miss Andrews highlight of the second Act. and her wonderful exit designed by the effects team. The wigs on the many characters including Mr Robertson, the bird women and Queen Victoria are well designed by Wu. Music Director Coleman kept the show on pitch and brought out the best of the company during “Down the Chimney.”
It’s a pleasure to spend the a holiday at the SF Playhouse with MARY POPPINS, her beloved Banks family and her dear friend Bert. Susi Damilano and Kimberly Richards bring the magic and iconic image of that umbrella and bag of sugar and a little bit of magic – Mary will teach us the family is all about the season. Next up at the SFPH is Laurens Yee KING OF THE YES that opens January 22nd and next summer CABARET closes their distinguished season in June as the KIT CAT CLUB comes to Union Square. The opening night POPPINS crowd was on their feet and in love with this cast and musical. San Francisco's premier theatre company is the sell out this holiday season so get the remaining seats to MARY POPPINS soon, and bring your own umbrella.
San Francisco Playhouse Presents
Based on the stories of PL Travers and Disney Films
Written by Julian Fellows, Music by Roger and Richard Sherman
new songs by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe
Directed by Susi Damilano
Musical Director Katie Coleman
Choreography by Kimberly Richards
Through Jan 12
SFPH 450 Post Street,
San Francisco Ca 94102
Two Hours 30 minutes with a 15 min intermission
Photos by Jessica Palopoli.
The cast features El Beh, Dominic Dagdagan, Ryan Drummond*, Rudy Guerrero*, Kathryn Han*, Abby Haug*, Grace Hutton, Billy Hutton, Ruth Keith, Sophia LaPaglia, Rod Voltaire Edora*, Catrina Manahan, Katrina Lauren McGraw*, Anthony Rollins-Mullens*, David Rukin, Marie Shell*, Wiley Naman Strasser, and Gina Velez.