Above: Variety’s production of the musical Mary Poppins (Courtesy of Sydni Jackson/The Current)
By Bob White, Staff Writer
Saturday evening, the Variety Children Theatre performed one of five showings of Disney’s Mary Poppins at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center of the University of Missouri—St. Louis. Their performance was “practically perfect.”
Before the show, Jan Albus, Chief Executive Officer of St. Louis Variety, the Children’s Charity, and a line of students all crossed the stage. Albus explained that all the standing students were disabled interns shadowing under an array of positions, including production manager and costume designer.
As the microphone moved its way down the stage, a feeling of opportunity, hope, and wonder filled the room. As the mysterious, fictional nanny Mary Poppins later said, “Anything can happen, if you let it.” Those students saw chances to embrace their potential and they took them.
With magic already in the room, the curtains rose for the show.
As is typical for theatrical adaptions of movies, this Broadway take follows Disney’s movie version but expands the story in different parts. There are no merry-go-rounds or waiting penguins, but the kids’ toys come to life in a creepy, confrontational scene. In addition to Katie Nanna (Taylor Pietz) and George Banks’ (Gary Glasgow), nanny Miss Andrew (Elise LaBarge) also appears on stage.
One drastic change was George’s banking experience: Mary Poppins (Elizabeth DeRosa) brings his children Michael (Phoenix Lawson) and Jane (Fiona Scott) to the bank. They remind him that a man’s values are greater than how much money he can make. In choosing a man with substance over a man with “a great idea” to invest in, George is suspended from the bank without pay until the bank can make a decision.
The production had a simple and clean choreography. The “Step in Time” sequence was exhilarating to watch. Disappointing as it might seem, there was hardly any gymnastics. Instead, there was tap-dancing—very dedicated tap-dancing. The energy on the stage during this scene was insane. The delivery was so enthusiastic that ending the musical after that scene would have been more than acceptable.
Another area of high praise is the costumes, particularly those in the more magical sequences. The Talking Shop scene—featuring “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”—had everyone dressed in bright pinks and yellows, plaids, and ruffles. Mrs. Corry (Allison Newman) and her daughters wore the most extravagant costumes of them all; their dresses were made of different patches of neon colors and textures.
There were two powerful vocal aspects worthy of note. The latter part of the first song was “Feed the Birds,” performed by the Bird Woman (Kay Love) and Mary Poppins herself. Winifred Banks (Leah Berry) sang the second song, “Mrs. Banks (Reprise).”
There were a few hiccups. Mary Poppins’ microphone flickered for about twenty minutes after her arrival. In some of the dance scenes, a handful of people did not perform the moves fluidly. However, other dancers made up for the moves they lacked.
Every year, Variety Children’s Theatre selects a musical that provides entertainment and a powerful message. Proceeds from tickets benefit Variety programs that help children with disabilities achieve their full potential. Last year, Variety Children’s Theatre’s production of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” sold out its five performances at the Touhill. For more information on upcoming events at the Touhill, contact 314-516-4949, or visit the website at Touhill.org.