The Legacy Theater presents Mary Poppins
Mary Poppins. We all know her and love her from the 1964 Disney movie. She is a little bit sarcastic, clever, always kind and very magical. Did you know, however, that the creator and author of the series of children’s books, Australia-born P.L.Travers, disliked Disney’s rendition and supposedly cried throughout the premier? The good news is Mary Poppins, the Broadway Musical, is much closer to the character development Travers intended.
British-born megaproducer Cameron Mackintosh first met Ms. Travers in 1993 to begin a discussion about transforming the screenplay into the Broadway musical and in 2001 obtained permission from Disney Theatrical to use the music from the movie and bring his vision to the Broadway stage.
Scott Richardson, executive director of Springfield’s Legacy Theater, grew up reading the Mary Poppins books and only first saw the Disney movie in the 1980s. When Mary Poppins, the Musical first appeared on Broadway in 2006, Richardson went to New York with high expectations. Unfortunately, the Broadway show did not “touch his heart” and he left disappointed. Years later, after reviving the Legacy Theater, Richardson thought maybe the reason his Mary Poppins Broadway experience was so disheartening was because the venue was too large. “Maybe it needs a smaller space, a more intimate experience,” Richardson mused.
At first the Legacy Theater did not have the accommodations to seamlessly lift and slide the sets on and off stage and certainly did not have the capabilities to fly Mary Poppins in with the East Wind. But after a year of interior construction, the audience viewed on as Mary Poppins awesomely made her grand entrance.
Although the company followed a set script, Richardson and his team had artistic license to create the scenery and costumes. He designed the spectacular sets while Betty Ring and Mary McDonald created impeccable period costumes. Scenes such as In the Park, where Bert, Mary Poppins, Jane, Michael and company sing “Jolly Holiday” and the magical experience in Mrs. Corry’s Conversation Shop singing and dancing to “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” showcase the brilliant way Richardson and his team brought fantasy and beauty to the stage through elaborate sets and vibrant costume colors.
Festively decorated scooters became Richardson’s “homage” to the lively cartoon carousel horse scene from the Disney movie. The addition of sign language in “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” was very effective and the chimney sweep tap dance to “Step in Time” was clever and well executed.
Of course, none of the vocal and dance numbers would be possible without a wonderful orchestra. Hats off to the tiptop performance of musical director Emerson James and the musicians who from the opening overture to the closing bows never skipped a beat.
Richardson’s theater background is in puppetry. We experienced his talents with the inclusion of Willoughby the dog, the pigeons in the St. Paul’s Cathedral scene with the Bird Woman (Cynda Wrightsman) and Mary Poppins (Diane Dietz) and an Admiral Boom puppet worthy of a guest appearance on the “Muppet Show.”
I was wondering how the troupe would solve some of the scenes generated by “movie magic.” Mary Poppins did in fact ride up the staircase railing to the second floor and did have a bottomless carpetbag. How did these things happen? You’ll have to ask Nick Williams and Charles Bach, the creative and magical aficionados who were responsible for the special effects. I suspect, however, being true to their craft, they will never tell their secrets.
Diane Dietz (Mary Poppins) is somewhat new to the area, but already has a performance at the Muni and a Civil War musical to add to her Springfield resume. She is trained in vocal performance and owns and operates her music school right here in town. Greg Floyd (Bert), no stranger to the stage, has performed in Hoogland theater productions and also in the Legacy building when it was the Springfield Theater Company. Ed MacMurdo (George Banks), Carrie Kincade (Winifred Banks), Jacob Giacomini (Michael Banks) and Lucy Harmon (Jane Banks) complete the group of lead characters in the musical.
When we think of Disney’s Mary Poppins, we think of the children’s trials and tribulations. Mary Poppins, the Musical also explores the interpersonal relationships within the adult world. In Act 1, Carrie Kincade (Winifred Banks) sings a beautifully moving aria in which she analyzes her life as Mrs. Banks. In Act 2, we are introduced to a new character, George Banks’ evil nanny, Miss Andrew. (Johna Keen sings this role with a virtuosic voice. Brava, I say.) After meeting Miss Andrew, we quickly learn why Mr. Banks is a distant and uninvolved person. It’s clear he was terrorized as a child by his nanny!
Richardson created magical moments such as the Cherry Tree Lane scene where Mary Poppins, Michael and Jane are elevated to the heavens on their living room sofa, while overlooking a tender exchange between George Banks, the Bird Lady and Bert. Thanks to the Legacy Theater and Scott’s imagination, the audience is drawn in to many beautiful and unique settings.
“It was a labor of love for the cast and crew. We wanted to create special arts memories for the audience to take home,” reflected Richardson. “I wanted to try to find the heart of Mary Poppins and touch the audience. At the forefront it must be truthful and honest and resonate with the audience.”
Theresa O’Hare of Springfield teaches flute, piccolo and Irish whistle in her own private studio and is an adjunct music faculty member at Lincoln Land Community College.