Categories: Arts Theater

Jolly holiday with SF Playhouse’s ‘Mary Poppins’

Like its famous source material, San Francisco Playhouse’s stage musical “Mary Poppins” is full of magic.

Admirers of the stories by P.L. Travers and, perhaps even more fans of the beloved 1964 movie with Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, will be charmed by this local presentation of the 2004 hit show (it went to Broadway in 2006) with an impressive pedigree.

Produced by Cameron Mackintosh and Disney, it’s got Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman’s best classic songs from the film (although in a different order, with different setups) and some almost as good new music by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. And the book is by Julian Fellowes of “Downton Abbey” fame.

The show looks fantastic, from the opening with narrator/jack of all trades Bert (versatile Wiley Naman Strasser) serenading on a rooftop, playing an accordion, warning about dark clouds gathering at the home of the upper-class Banks family, to the close, after the group has been touched by nanny Mary Poppins’ (appropriately enigmatic yet sassy El Beh) enchanting powers.

A smashing production team of several dozen led by Maggie Koch, Angela Knutson, Zach Sigman, Tish Leung and Mike “Miguel” Martinez is behind plentiful amazing effects, quite up to Disney standards: Mary Poppins pulls a seemingly endless stream of items out of her carpet bag (in a new tune “Practically Perfect”); a kitchen mess is instantly tidied (in “A Spoonful of Sugar”); black birds flap their wings (in “Feed the Birds); city folk engage in a fun leisure activity (in “Let’s Go Fly a Kite”) and, of course, the umbrella-wielding title character flies.

Everything dazzles, set against an equally splendid scenic design by Nina Ball. An ingenious rotating platform conjures up the Banks’ home, a vine-and-flower covered wall in a London park, and city chimney tops where sweeps toil. Abra Berman provides the period costumes.

Versatile Wiley Naman Strasser plays Bert. (Courtesy Jessica Palopoli)

Director Susi Damilano leads the accomplished players: Beh and Strasser provide just the right amount of nuance to their supernatural characters (and dance and sing up a storm).

The Banks children Jane and Michael are rightfully and delightfully prominently featured throughout. Ruth Keith and David Rukin (alternating with Grace and Billy Hutton) were excellent in the Nov. 23 evening show, and Abby Haug and Ryan Drummond nicely evoke sympathy as their beleaguered parents Winifred and George.

Same goes for the multi-tasking supporting cast, featuring Katrina Lauren McGraw as the Bird Woman, Sophia La Paglia as sweet-shop proprietor Mrs. Corry; Kathryn Han as Miss Lark, whose puppet dog Willoughby is a scene-stealer; Dominic Dagdagan as Neleus, the park statue that comes alive; and Marie Shell as the Banks’ cook Mrs. Brill.

Rounding out the excellent ensemble are Anthony Rollins-Mullens, Rod Voltaire Edora, Rudy Guerrero, Gina Velez and Catrina Manahan, who step in time to Kimberly Richards’ snappy, snazzy choreography and pianist Katie Coleman leading a six-piece band (that sounds bigger).

For a spirit-warming holiday diversion that, for lack of a better word, is “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” (this stage version of the tune amusingly has been beefed up from the movie original) San Francisco Playhouse’s “Mary Poppins” can’t be beat.

REVIEW
Mary Poppins
Presented by: San Francisco Playhouse
Where: 450 Post St., second floor, S.F.
When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes Jan. 12
Tickets: $35 to $125
Contact: (415) 677-9596, www.sfplayhouse.org

Leslie Katz

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