Small touches and broad strokes. After watching a show as full of flash and as famous as "Mary Poppins," the broad strokes—the soaring song-and-dance numbers, the kaleidoscopic whimsicality—will stay foremost in the mind.
But it is the small touches—and there are many in College Light Opera Company's brilliant production of the musical based on the stories of P.L. Travers and the Walt Disney film—that will form enduring memories of a truly special stage experience for children and adults alike.
I will start by praising the broad strokes. Executive and artistic director Mark A. Pearson, stage director Alison Morooney and musical director Henry Lewers deserve multiple rounds of applause for bringing all the visible and audible elements together, in tune and in time. An extra-loud Huzzah! goes to Manley Gavich for his spirited choreography.
Aiding them are associate artistic director Beth Burrier, production manager and technical director Charles Jodoin, and vocal coaches Zachary Manlapid and Chase Anderson.
The 1964 movie's hit songs are there—think Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke—and on opening night Tuesday, July 30, the leads and ensemble members (along with the great band) performed them all exceptionally well, some through several reprises: "Chim Chim Cher-ee," "Jolly Holiday," "A Spoonful of Sugar," "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" and "Let's Go Fly a Kite."
Possibly even more enjoyable, however, were some of the less-familiar tunes because they lent themselves more readily to those small touches, mostly tiny character moments, that I mentioned.
In Act One, the standouts are "Cherry Tree Lane," "Practically Perfect," "Precision and Order," "A Man Has Dreams" and "Feed the Birds."
"Cherry Tree Lane" compactly introduces the troubled Banks family, which includes George (David Young), Winifred (Anastasia Lallos) and Jane and Michael (played wonderfully by young guest artists and siblings Clio and Declan Foley).
"Practically Perfect" is an early high point for Mary Poppins (Alaina Mueller), showing the magical character's mischievous side and showing off the actress's powerful voice.
"Precision and Order" is an extraordinary ensemble number with clockwork-coordinated choreography and tremendous vocal harmonies. The Bank Chairman (Andrey Vdovenko) memorably leads the chorus.
"A Man Has Dreams" is George's big solo, and Mr. Young is a gifted actor and singer whose character earns his place as the emotional center of the story.
"Feed the Birds" is a beautiful duet between Mary Poppins and the Bird Woman (Paula Barry).
In Act Two, the highlights are "Brimstone and Treacle," "Being Mrs. Banks" and "Step in Time."
"Brimstone and Treacle" is a showcase for the comedic talents of Spencer Gonzalez, in black wig and dress, as the "Holy Terror," the malevolent nanny Miss Andrew.
Also, on the subject of the show's abundant humor, I would be remiss not to laud the inspired slapstick and vocal hijinks of Mrs. Brill (Audra Weathers) and Robertson Ay (Ryan Wolpert), the Banks family's zany pair of servants, throughout the show.
"Being Mrs. Banks" is Winifred's counterpart solo to George's "A Man Has Dreams." Here, as in all her other scenes, Ms. Lallos shows she is one of the strongest and most emotionally authentic performers in the cast.
"Step in Time" is the show's all-out theatrical tour de force. Everything and everyone floods the stage in a feat of sensation. Parades of chimney sweeps walk up the aisles singing gloriously, and the music packs its most percussive punch. A showstopper, honestly.
Logan Hoy Tucker's turn as Bert, the chimney sweep and master-of-all-trades, was my favorite performance on opening night. Through his engaging stage presence, he keeps the character from becoming nothing more than a cockney caricature. This is evident in a touching scene late in the play, when he speaks alone with George and kneels to pick up shards of a shattered heirloom. In short, he seems very human there. At the same time, when he stands on the rooftops of London, he also seems larger than life.
The final number, "Anything Can Happen," is stupendous full-cast theater, but it does not quite reach the heights of "Step in Time."
Scenic designer Oscar Escobedo's shifting stage sets are relatively spare for such a large-scale production, but he takes good advantage of every inch of the stage. With Mr. Escobedo, costume designer Sophia Baramidze and lighting designer Angela Mantel contribute to the successful use of shadow, silhouette and fields of pattern and color.
Grab your umbrella and your bottomless handbag, and let the wind carry you to see "Mary Poppins." The show will be on stage at Highfield Theatre through Saturday. Tickets are available online or at the box office.