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Theater Review: Mary Poppins:

Editor-at-Large

Mary Poppins, the world’s most famous nanny, has floated into town with her carpetbag full of fascinating tricks and has landed quite gracefully on the stage of the Ahmanson Theatre. This dazzling production, a holiday gift to everyone, is based on the stories of P.L. Travers and the Walt Disney film, with book by Oscar award-winning Julian Fellowes.

Produced jointly by Disney and Cameron MacIntosh, the production features two key cast members from the 2006 Broadway production, reprising their original roles. A most talented Ashley Brown is quite delightful as Mary, possessing the physical grace and beautiful vocal instrument to withstand the expected comparisons to Julie Andrews. Gavin Lee’s outstanding singing and dancing performance as Bert the chimney sweep was right up there with the unforgettable performance by Dick Van Dyke who actually made a surprise appearance on opening night. The audience gasped and broke out into wild applause as Bert tap danced up the side of the wall and around the proscenium arch.

The story revolves around the Banks family consisting of George, the uptight, business-obsessed dad, played well by Karl Kenzler, his wife Winifred, appropriately played by Megan Osterhaus, and their two children, Michael and Jane, performed by Carter Thomas and Bailey Grey respectively who alternate their roles with two other young actors. Once Mary becomes part of the household, all bets are off as magic rules and order is restored in a most painless way so that joy comes to a once joyless family and even the medicine begins to taste yummy.

One of the most spectacular productions to hit our stage, thanks to Richard Eyre’s direction and co-director Matthew Bourne’s breathtaking choreographed production numbers of such familiar favorites as “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” “A Spoonful of Sugar,” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” Mary Poppins is an eye-popping extravaganza that tantalizes the senses.

Lighting Designer Howard Harrison’s 21-flavors of colors washes over Bob Crowley’s amazing set design including the exquisitely detailed Banks’ multi-level Edwardian doll house that, through the wonders of scenic wizardry and engineering, rotates from the living room, to the kitchen, to the children’s bedroom with the precision of a ballet. The exterior sets are equally as fascinating as we see rooftops and cityscapes come to life with an array of ensemble numbers.

The production has an excellent supporting cast including Valerie Boyle as the cook, Ellen Harvey as the nanny from hell, Miss Andrew, and cook’s assistant Robertson Ay, played by Andrew Keenan-Bolger. The rest of the ensemble is comprised of very talented singers and dancers all of whom contribute to making this a most memorable theatrical experience.

Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N Grand Ave. L.A., Run: Tuesday-Sunday, Ends: February 7, 2010

Tickets: 213.972.4400, www.centertheatregroup.org

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