I’ve been lucky enough to catch a number of plays and musicals this year and have seen some outstanding shows, but none made me smile more than a show that I had the pleasure of catching last week. Mary Poppins is currently playing at the Sedgewick theater located in Mt. Airy, and though it was a little jaunt for this Center City gal, it was worth the trip.
To start with, the show took place in a grand old dame of a theater. She was a little run down and weary but that added to the charm. The staff was very personable and made you feel like you were being greeted by old friends. The refreshments sold were reasonably priced, I mean wine for $6, tea for $1 and popcorn for $3? Can’t beat that. And best of all, we were allowed to take our purchases into the theater so I didn’t have to try to gulp down a hot beverage before curtain call.
But on to the show! This version of Mary Poppins is being mounted by the Quintessence Theatre Group. Originally written by P.L. Travers, this is the Disney & Cameron Mackintosh version with original music and lyric by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman, book written by Julian Fellowes (yes, of “Downton Abbey” fame). The show opened quietly with a character onstage creating drawings on the floor. We’re not really sure if he’s part to the show or a stage hand making some last minute adjustments. One of the wonderful things about the Sedgewick theater is how intimate the productions are. You feel like you’re right in with the cast and best of all, you can actually hear the singers sing! Not amplified, but you can hear the raw, true voices, which made it all the more imperative to have decent singers in the roles. I have a sensitivity to pitch and have seen far too many shows where the actors either talk through the song, or are ever so slightly off pitch. Not in this production, the cast is chock full of amazing singers and performers with not a weak link to be found.
Hanna Gaffney, who plays Mary, is a wonderful talent who infused the role with a slightly darker portrayal then we’re used to seeing. The wit and charm that is written with along with Gaffney’s good looks and the ever present mischievous glint in her eye reminded me ever so slightly of another one of Fellowes’ characters, Lady Mary Crawley, complete with lilting accent and stately bearing. Her counter part was openly gay actor Steve Pacek. Pacek had a voice that rang out beautifully in the small theater and infused his role with a warmth that made the character more authentic and therefore more likable than the film version. The entire cast was talented, and most of the cast played multiple roles switching deftly from one character to the next. We even found ourselves belly laughing at a certain gender switching role midway through. In addition, there were a number of songs I hadn’t heard before that found myself humming as I left the theater. “Practically Perfect” as sung by Gaffney may be my new theme song.
The staging of the show was wonderfully imaginative. It’s hard to write about it without giving anything away, but the way props were handled in the show, especial the bottomless carpet bag carried by Mary Poppins was inspired. Director Emily Trask did a masterful job of infusing the show with humor, and heart and clever machinations to keep the show moving. Kudos to the creative team, scenic director Ellen Moore created a set that was effective in every setting from the children’s bedroom to the rooftops of London. All were enchanted by the clever lighting employed by Anthony Forchielli. And the sound was impeccable, with little touches like the sound of bird wings flapping and a dog baking spread through the show making the imaginary seem real. The choreography was simple but effective as were the black clad stage hands who were included in the staging.
Adding a bit of fun for the audience, the actors often broke the fourth wall with a wink and a nod, such as when the wife, played by Deanna Gibson, searches for the uptight Mr. Bank’s hat only to take it off of one of the musicians sitting stage left. The show is over two hours long, and as I took in a matinee performance there were a number of little ones in the seats. It was a testament to the show that there was not one meltdown in the audience. From Mary’s first entrance to the final bow, the audience both young and old were entranced and amused throughout. Grab your car or get a ride and get yourself over to this ingenious staging of an old classic.
Mary Poppins runs through January 8.