It might be a little too on-the-nose to headline a review of St. Petersburg City Theatre’s Mary Poppins with the title of one the musical’s best-known songs, but I can’t help it: SPCT’s production is practically perfect.
Granted, there’s room for improvement, as even Mary acknowledges. The sound is a bit wonky, and the variously British accents sometimes make the dialogue hard to decipher. And the production, inventively directed and choreographed by Jeffrey M. Lucas, feels about a half hour too long.
But on the whole this is a delightful show. Mary’s a kind of magician, after all, and this production definitely brings the magic.
You likely know the story, either from Disney’s beloved 1964 film or the children’s book by P.L. Travers. Mary, the itinerant nanny, sails over the rooftops of London via umbrella. She lands in the lives of the troubled Banks family, where she makes things right for the bratty kids, beleaguered mom and distant dad.
SPCT presents the musical adaptation of the story that ran on Broadway from 2006-13. My husband and I saw that production with our two then-young grandsons, who loved it, but we were left cold. The whole thing seemed a bit dreary, foregrounding the Banks’s marital strife at the expense of, well, the fun.
Mary Poppins in St. Pete
Admittedly, those segments of the script still drag things down a bit at SPCT, despite fine performances by Dave Davis, upright and stern as the dad, and Kendra Van Wynsberghe, poised and poignant as his wife.
But everything perks up whenever Mary pops in, played by Tammy D. Lukas. With her confident stride and twinkling eye, she’s entirely believable as a woman who‘s used to making things happen her way. Mary’s connection with Bert the chimney sweep is sweetly flirtatious, and Bill Shideler plays Bert with such ease and good humor that he seems born to the part.
As the Banks’s two children, Jane and Michael, Josie Yanda and Sebastian Kuoch are terrific. Sandra Huerta as the knowing housekeeper Mrs. Brill and Xavier Molina Delgado as Robertson, the hapless manservant, have great comic rapport.
Watch for a cake-baking mishap culminating in a hilarious pratfall by Robertson, after which Mary — in one of the production’s many gasp-worthy special effects — repairs all the damage.
And as Mr. Banks’s former nanny, the gorgon-like Miss Andrew, Jovana Zeremba stops the show with her operatic range and fearsome presence.
I’m a bit in awe of how well director/choreographer Lukas and musical director Dawne Eubanks were able to commandeer their talented 29-member cast in numbers like the joyously wacko “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and the tap-dancing chimney sweeps’ “Step in Time.” Kudos to Stacie and Stefanie Lehmann for the variety and detail of the costuming and to Rachel and Thea Fennell for their evocative lighting. Lukas’s projections and animations add immeasurably to the fun.
Fun is what everyone in SPCT’s Mary Poppins seems to be having. You will, too.
See Mary Poppins
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The Gabber Newspaper covers live theater and art across South Pinellas and, when we find something worth the drive, in the Tampa Bay and Sarasota area.