Curtain Critic: Phoenix Theatre brings magic to the holidays with Mary Poppins


Phoenix Theatre's production of Mary Poppins is full of colorful theatricality and larger-than-life personalities. The show will run through December 28 and is fun for the whole family. (Photo Courtesy of Erin Evangeline Photography)
Phoenix Theatre’s production of Mary Poppins is full of colorful theatricality and larger-than-life personalities. The show will run through December 28 and is fun for the whole family. (Photo Courtesy of Erin Evangeline Photography)

Very few characters stay in the hearts and minds of children and adults as Mary Poppins does.

What started out as a book published in 1934 by P.L. Travers became a wildly popular Disney film featuring Julie Andrews, a musical in London and eventually an award-winning Broadway hit. The story is a magical, thought-provoking classic that will stand the test of time.

“Mary Poppins” is the story of an enchanting and strict-yet-kind nanny who travels by umbrella to help children in need of a caretaker. In the story, she arrives at the Banks’ home on Cherry Tree Lane right after the children, Jane and Michael, write an advertisement for their version of the perfect nanny that their father, George, tears up and throws into the fireplace. But that doesn’t stop Mary Poppins from answering the call and changing the lives of the family forever.

There’s quite a bit of magic in the story. The film featured animated dancing penguins, singing barnyard animals and flying carousel horses. And while the musical isn’t exactly the same as the movie, I’m sure most of the audience members spent a least a little bit of time wondering how Phoenix Theatre would bring the same enchantment and magic to the stage.

Will Mary Poppins still fly in using her umbrella? Will she magically snap items back into place? Will very large items be pulled out of a not quite big enough bag? Can you fly a kite in a theater? And most important, will there be dancing animals?

The answer to all of those questions is yes.

“Mary Poppins” at Phoenix Theatre is incredibly imaginative. Directed by Michael Barnard, the combination of the bright and colorful backdrops and set designs, professional dancers, talented cast, expert lighting, costuming and music make the production a mesmerizing experience.

There were a few minor difficulties with the more magical parts of the evening — a broken wire when Mary was supposed to be magically snapping some kitchen pans into place and a few times when the wires were a bit more visible than they probably should have been, but it didn’t take away from the overall experience of the show.

The cast had wonderful chemistry. The interactions between Mary Poppins and the children, her friend who is a chimney sweep named Bert and the Banks family were incredibly heartfelt and touching throughout the entire musical.

Individually, they shone just as brightly.

The children, Michael and Jane, portrayed by Isaac Speyer and Katie Brown — two very talented actors for their age — were charming and entertaining. Including Clay Sanderson and Shana Bousard as Mr. and Mrs. Banks, the four actors made one of the most believable families to grace the Phoenix Theatre stage, especially during the fighting and bickering, which made the final scenes of the musical when they came together as a family even more heart-warming.

While there will most likely never be a pair to portray the relationship between Mary Poppins and Bert as perfectly as Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, the true magic of the musical was in the performances of Trisha Hart Ditsworth and Toby Yatso, who were as reminiscent of the iconic duo as is probably possible. I’m a big fan of the 1964 film, and they did not disappoint. During the whole performance — and especially during their musical numbers — they were captivating. Yatso’s Cockney accent and cheerful manner while portraying the jack-of-all-trades Bert could bring a smile to any face.

Some of the greatest musical numbers include “Practically Perfect,” “Jolly Holiday,” “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” and “Anything Can Happen,” as could be expected. An unexpected crowd favorite, though, and a song I had almost forgotten about, “Feed the Birds,” was perhaps the most beautiful and heart-wrenching musical number of the night.

For the most part, “Feed the Birds” is sung by the Bird Woman, who is played by Christy Welty, and Mary Poppins. It’s meant to teach the children a lesson about kindness and giving to those less fortunate. The harmonies in the song were flawless and the sparkling starry night sky in the background set the stage for a breathtaking and gorgeous scene.

“Mary Poppins” is a brilliant show for a family night out and a great show for children, whether it is used to inspire them, teach them a few very important lessons, or verse them in the moral of the story, which is of course, as Mary Poppins says, “anything can happen if you let it.”

And the musical does an amazing job of proving just that with statues and toys that come to life, larger-than-life personalities, dancing flowers, actors who defy gravity and so much more that all contributes in creating an exciting musical that never has a dull moment. The standing ovation was well deserved.

The show will be performed through Dec. 28. Tickets can be purchased online or through the box office at 602-254-2151. Student discounts are also available. With a high school or college ID, any seats still open 15 minutes before the show are only $15.

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