“Mary Poppins” is Paper Mill Playhouse’s final offering for the season and it’s pure perfection! While Mary’s song may be “Practically Perfect,” in my mind there’s no “practically” about it. This show elevates and educates, and there are many who are moved by the simplicity of its message, anything can happen if you let it.
First, we meet Bert (Mark Evans), who is not only a jack of all trades, he’s their master! He is the perfect interlocutor and guide for our journey. There is a very Zen aspect to Bert, where all things are possible and he practices non-attachment to ephemeral things. When we meet the woman who captures his and all of our hearts, it’s clear to see why.
We are in England in the early 1900s, where Mr. George Banks (Adam Monley) is clearly the king of his castle. He is a young banker, who has a stern control over everything around him. His wife Winifred, the lovely Jill Paice, a very versatile visitor to the Paper Mill stage, has the happy task of loving him and the children, but the unhappy task of being frequently called upon to find yet another nanny for their very bright children, Jane (Abbie Grace Levi) and Michael (John Michael Pitera). Jane and Michael are brilliant at making mischief, until a favorable wind blows in the nanny, who will make this bundle of relatives truly a family, Mary Poppins (Elena Shaddow).
I follow Shaddow’s career with great appreciation. She is superb as Mary Poppins–adding so much of herself that this is very much her Poppins, in that way that other actors make “Hamlet” or the star of “That Scottish Play” their very own. She draws your gaze whenever she’s onstage with her combination of personality, grace, and the wit not only of phrasing, but also of expression. Watching her is thoroughly delightful.
Evans, as Mary’s augur, knows that he’s destined to love her from afar, but occasionally presses his advantage. Leading his army of chimney sweeps in “Step in Time” is one of the many highlights of the show. His rough-and-tumble with the children is the perfect sauce for the main dish of Mary’s teachings and the children see that there are those who will love and protect them, beyond the bond of blood.
Whenever I see Liz McCartney on a bill, I get a bit of a thrill. Whatever is going to happen with her will be brilliant. When she plays the Bird Lady, there’s nary a dry eye, and when she becomes Miss Andrew, the change could not be more complete. Her “Brimstone and Treacle” is one for the ages.
The foot-stomping on your feet show stopper of the evening is “Supercalifragilisticexpialadocious.” Brilliantly staged, the ensemble is so engaging–dropping a wink here and there, and engaging audience throughout, the number sets up a sympathetic vibration, causing spontaneous clapping. We all want to be a part of such a joyous event. Followed by the darkly brooding “Playing the Game,” a gauntlet is down, even if it looks like Mary’s glove.
Time flies and the cares of the world return. Yet even as I was walking out of the theater, my new mantra began running through my mind. “Anything can happen, if you let it.”
Mary Pops off on June 25. Visit www.PaperMill.org
for the best seating. This is an iron hand in a velvet glove and a great reminder of how wealthy we are, when we have love.