MAG­I­CAL MU­SI­CAL

The Young Peo­ple’s Theatre pro­duc­tion of Mary Pop­pins will get you hum­ming along,

Toronto Star - - ENTERTAINMENT - KAREN FRICKER THEATRE CRITIC

Mary Pop­pins

★★★ (out of 4) Orig­i­nal mu­sic and lyrics by Richard M. Sher­man and Robert B. Sher­man; book by Ju­lian Fel­lowes; ad­di­tional mu­sic and lyrics by Ge­orge Stiles and An­thony Drewe. Co-cre­ated by Cameron Mack­in­tosh, directed by Thom Al­li­son and chore­ographed by Kerry Gage. Un­til Jan. 6 at Young Peo­ple’s Theatre, 165 Front St. E. young­peo­plesthe­atre.ca or 416-862-2222

Signs of sea­sonal change in Toronto: Christ­mas win­dow dis­plays go­ing up, snow in the fore­cast and Young Peo­ple’s Theatre un­veil­ing its hol­i­day show.

This year’s mu­si­cal en­ter­tain­ment for school au­di­ences (with week­end pub­lic per­for­mances) is the beloved story of the “un­canny nanny” who straight­ens out the life of an un­happy fam­ily in Ed­war­dian Lon­don.

The fo­cus of this pro­duc­tion, directed by Thom Al­li­son and chore­ographed by Kerry Gage, are the mu­si­cal num­bers:

The 14-strong cast are ter­rific singers and hoofers, whose skills in­clude tum­bling and tap (for the show-stop­ping Step in Time).

Those for whom the 1964 Dis­ney film was a for­ma­tive ex­pe­ri­ence will have a won­der­ful time hear­ing all those great songs sung so well.

And it’s grat­i­fy­ing to know that younger gen­er­a­tions are be­ing ex­posed to their spe­cial magic.

Less en­ergy has been ex­pended on the story’s su­per­nat­u­ral el­e­ments.

While ap­pre­ci­at­ing that the scale here doesn’t al­low for Mary to fly in over the au­di­ence’s heads (as she does in the stage ver­sion that is the ba­sis of this pro­duc­tion), there’s some­thing de­flat­ing about her just walk­ing into the Banks’ house.

While there are some fun visual ef­fects — glow-in-the-dark can­is­ters pop­ping up out of a kitchen cab­i­net in A Spoon­ful of Sugar, Mary’s hat rack emerg­ing im­prob­a­bly from her car­pet bag, a kite ap­pear­ing above the stage — they rely on old-fash­ioned stage trick­ery that adds to the pro­duc­tion feel­ing heavy and some­times dated.

More timely and very wel­come is YPT’s ap­proach to cast­ing, which scram­bles eth­nic­ity and some­times gen­der.

Mary is played with win­ning crisp­ness by home­grown mu­si­cal theatre star Vanessa Sears; Mrs. Banks by Jewelle Black­man, in su­perb voice; and lit­tle Michael Banks by Black ac­tress Hai­ley Lewis (his sis­ter Jane is played by the more tra­di­tion­ally cast, and equally good, Jessie Cox).

It’s great to see per­form­ers mostly as­so­ci­ated with the Shaw Fes­ti­val get­ting a chance to strut their mu­si­cal theatre stuff off-sea­son: Kyle Blair is per­fectly cast as the chim­ney sweep Bert and has ter­rific chem­istry with Sears’ Mary, while Starr Domingue plays the shop mistress Mrs. Corry with great flair.

This ver­sion of the story, rewrit­ten by Down­ton Abbey’s Ju­lian Fel­lowes for a 2003 West End re­vival (a huge and much-re­vived hit that vis­ited the Royal Alexan­dra in 2011), puts a lot of fo­cus on the Banks fam­ily’s dys­func­tion.

It paints Mr. Banks (Shane Carty) as a worka­holic de­ter­mined to par­ent his chil­dren as sternly as did his nanny Miss An­drew (Sarah Lynne Strange).

Cut­ting the ma­te­rial down to a 90-minute run­ning time means that some as­pects of the story go un­der-ex­plained (what a chim­ney sweep is, for ex­am­ple).

Along with the per­form­ers’ singing and danc­ing, the big star turn here is Wil­liam Lay­ton’s colour­ful, plen­ti­ful cos­tumes: lots of quick changes as Mary moves be­tween her sig­na­ture long coat and flat hat to tea party at­tire for Jolly Hol­i­day. And the whole com­pany switches to shiny pri­mary colour out­fits with clever stitchedin let­ters for Su­per­cal­ifrag­ilis­tic­ex­pi­ali­do­cious.

Spit-spot, off we go. Mary will al­ways win hearts and you’ll doubt­less leave hum­ming. Even if this pro­duc­tion feels a bit earth­bound. Karen Fricker is a Toronto-based theatre critic and a free­lance con­trib­u­tor for the Star. Fol­low her on Twit­ter @KarenFricker2.

CYLLA VON TIEDEMANN

Vanessa Sears, front left, plays Mary with win­ning crisp­ness, while Kyle Blair, front right, is per­fectly cast as chim­ney sweep Bert.

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