"Mary Poppins" floated into Fort Myers Tuesday. Audiences get gorgeous sets, a trilling soprano and chimney sweeps on parade. The delightful show offers plenty of thrills, but a more adult storyline lacks some of the pure whimsy and charm of the Disney film. Perhaps another spoonful of sugar?
"Downton Abbey" creator Julian Fellowes wrote the book for this new version. The musical aims for a more sophisticated plot line, featuring the Banks family in crisis and more emphasis on Mr. Banks. Jane and Michael Banks are far more troublesome. Some songs - like "Spoonful of Sugar" and "Feed the Birds" have been moved or re-imagined.
"Mary Poppins" still entertains on a grand, even majestic, scale. Disney and Cameron Mackintosh fashion a spectacular, awe-inspiring set that folds and unfolds like a giant pop-up storybook.
The cold, gray, dim neighborhood park transforms in a second to a surrealist garden in bloom. A Crayola box of colors explodes, statues come to life, magnificent costumes sweep the stage and more during "Jolly Holiday." Look for the cameo from a penguin, a nod to the film.
For all the magic, fun and visual treats though, the show feels like a constant battle. Anything with Mary Poppins, Bert, Jane and Michael soars. Anything with the Banks' marital troubles seems like a dour domestic duet lifted from another show.
Madeline Trumble trills and thrills as the titular soprano. She plays the role with obvious nods to Julie Andrews, but with a fresh, comical brashness that's updated for this millennium. Audiences will love the gorgeous "Spoonful of Sugar" and the showdown with big, bad nanny Miss Andrew (Karen Murphy) and her "Brimstone and Treacle."
Con O'Shea-Creal absolutely delights as Bert. The actor visibly lifts the life on the stage with every appearance. His huge smile and immense stage presence, along with incredible chemistry with Trumble, go a long way toward making this "Mary Poppins" a success.
Major points to too Julianna Rigoglioso (Jane Banks) and Eli Tokash (Michael Banks), the rare child actors to hold their own against adults. The pair give surprising depth to the children's roles and allow the audience to see their obvious joy in performing. Look too for superior comedy from Tregoney Shepherd as the exasperated Mrs. Brill, the rosy-cheeked, over-worked and over-excited "domestic" at the Banks household.
Chris Silk is the arts writer and theater critic for the Naples Daily News. To read the longer version of this review, go to: http://www.naplesnews.com/news/2013/jan/16/review-mary-poppins-national-tour-fort-myers/.
Photo Credit: Jeremy Daniel