Jeffrey Gauvin, Melissa Whitworth and Emma Budsberg in Titusville Playhouse’s ‘Mary Poppins: The Musical.’ Photo by Doug Lebo.
By PAM HARBAUGH
Childlike magic woven into a tender story combine into one of the most endearing productions you will see this season — Titusville Playhouse’s “Mary Poppins: The Musical.”
Yes, TPI scored a big one to produce this musical. Not only is it the first theater in Brevard to stage this show, but it’s also the second theater in Florida. But more than that little factoid, TPI director Steven Heron has brought together a wonderful cast, all decked out in a splendid array of costumes from chimney sweeps to a flying nanny, delivering a walloping good time and a bevy of “wow” moments.
The 2006 stage musical has original music and lyrics by Richard Sherman and Robert Sherman with new works by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. Its book is by Julian Fellowes, the creator of the hit British television series, “Downton Abbey.” You will recognize the same genteel dialogue and emotional restraint in Mr. and Mrs. Banks as in the Crawleys of Downtown Abbey. But there is that magical fantasy as well.
Of course, the stage musical is based on the 1964 movie starring Julie Andrews and Dick van Dyke. And that, of course, was based on the series of eight children’s books written by P.L. Travers from 1934 to 1988.
TPI takes this storied history and lovingly tells the tale of a family learning the difference between worth and value. That sly lesson is proposed by an incidental character who asks for a loan. He gives two children a coin and tells them that it’s more important to consider not what the coin is worth, but its value — the good it can create. This moment has been facilitated, as it were, by Mary Poppins, the fantastical nanny who has been mysteriously summoned by an advertisement written by two ill-behaved children, Jane and Michael Banks. Their stern father, George Banks, tears up by their missive and tosses it to the wind. That ends up just fine, you see, because Mary Poppins seems to live on the wind. And she will come to the Banks’ home and set things “spit spot” just so.But, oh my, a successful production hinges on two people — Bert, the chimney sweep, and Mary Poppins herself. Felicitously, TPI scores a bulls’ eye with Melissa Whitworth and Joshua Kolb, both of whom were cast in those roles at Theatre Winter Haven.
As Mary Poppins, Ms. Whitworth gives you Julie Andrews goosebumps. Her voice sails effortlessly through numbers like “Practically Perfect,” “A Spoonful of Sugar” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” She’s got that perfect combination of loving sweetness and knowing mischief all wrapped up in delightful stage presence.
With his winning smile, Mr. Kolb is utterly likeable as Bert, the chimney sweep who serves as narrator and even upside down ceiling walker. He leads the rousing “Step in Time” with an army of sooty, toe-tapping chimney sweeps.
Emma Budsberg and Jeffrey Gauvin charm as the two children who learn to think of others. Alexander Nathan will tug at your deepest heartstrings in his role of stern George Banks. And Kristen Sellers brings an ideal portrayal to Winifred Banks, the wife who struggles with finding her own voice.
Other standouts include Mindy Ward and Greg Coleman, the comic duo serving up the antics of the cook, Mrs. Brill, and the butler, Robertson Ay. Cynthia Bixby is fearsome Miss Andrew, George Banks’ unrelenting nanny of his youth.
Music director Michael Coppola forges wonderful numbers as does choreographer Tawni Edwards, who excels in “Supercali…” and “Step in Time.” The array of rented costumes, coordinated by Katy Ball, are ideal. Jay Bleakney does the impossible by bringing on scenic unit after scenic unit (he must be folding them like origami in TPI’s tight off stage space). Sound and lighting designer William Gibbons-Brown laces all with professional aplomb.
Huge kudos, though, to the crew who made Mr. Heron’s magical moments shine and delight. And there are quite a few, from Mary Poppins’ bottomless satchel and a tipsy turvy kitchen, to popping up a chimney and walking on the walls and ceiling. And, yes, much more.
Alas, tickets are going so very quickly. This has all the earmarks of being even bigger than TPI’s last season production of “Les Miserables.” Don’t delay. This is such a winning production for adults and children alike. Now, if Mr. Heron would just cut off that annoying tag on Mary Poppins’ umbrella, it’d be perfect. As of now, it’s just practically perfect.
SIDE O’ GRITS: “Mary Poppins: The Musical” runs through Feb. 1 at Titusville Playhouse, 301 Julia St., Titusville. Curtain is 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. 2 p.m. matinees are scheduled for Sundays and two Saturdays — Jan. 24 and 31. Tickets are $22 to $25 general and $20 to $23 students, military and seniors. Service charge may apply. Call 321-268-1125 or visit www.TitusvillePlayhouse.com.