WAUKESHA - Staging “Mary
Poppins” on the small stage at the Fireside Theatre in Fort Atkinson is a
challenge. Because of Poppins’ magic powers, producers often engage in
elaborate technologies to create some of her “tricks.” The dance of the
chimneysweeps is also usually a big production number when presented on a larger
However, because of the
ideal casting, astute direction and some small but very effective creative
touches, we still experience the childlike charm, beauty and mystery of this
As is true of all good
children’s literature, there is always something for everyone. Adults and
children each relate to it differently, but everyone can derive some enjoyment
and enlightenment from the story, which might account for its immense popularity
since its memorable film version in 1964, starring the inimitable Julie Andrews
and Dick Van Dyke.
The stage version has been
touring the world since 2004. It is just closing on Broadway after a long run,
As soon as we are introduced
to Mathew Schwartz as Bert and Elizabeth DeRosa as Mary Poppins, we know we are
in for a treat. Schwartz fully
captures Bert’s sunny and impish disposition. He’s perfected the dialect and
the deft moves, as well. He’s also good at piquing our interest as to the
nature of his and Poppins’ relationship. How have they known each other? Hmmm.
He makes us wonder. They obviously respect and like each other a lot.
is just as perfect as her song “Practically
Perfect” declares when she arrives upon the scene as the savior nanny to a
pair of children who have challenged many before her. Her mix of propriety and
ingenuity, not to mention her incredible vocal ability, plus her ability to
connect with children - all rescue Jane and Michael Banks from driving the Banks
household to insanity. Mrs. Banks, though well-meaning, seems incapable of
providing limits and discipline, and Mr. Banks is too involved in his work to
offer much in the way of parental involvement.
Mary Poppins teaches through
example and experiences. She challenges her charges, amuses them and forces them
to think and to empathize. She introduces them to her friend, the chimneysweep
Bert, to the statue Neleus and to the Bird Woman, who thinks of others before
herself. She helps them to see possibilities and encourages resiliency,
independence and generosity. They eventually begin to respond.
The characters of Mr. and
Mrs. Banks are also quite well developed, and they, too, grow under Mary Poppins’
tutelage. Megan Lee Miller is
perfect in her role as the accommodating, but frustrated, wife. Her vocals are
strong and clear and lovely. Mr.
Banks, played effectively by Victor Hernandez, is credibly crotchety, and when
the song permits, his melodious tenor voice comes through. His first few numbers
are a bit too low for his range. He is eventually redeemable and responsive, and
we love him for it.
Mrs. Brill is nicely
rendered by Rhonda Rae Busch, as is her household assistant Robertson Ay (Brian
Elliott), who has a towering voice when he has a chance to display it.
The Bank children are double
cast. Gracie Beardsley and Joshua MacCudden played the parts of Jane and Michael
on opening day, and though both are good, MacCudden gets the nod for being
totally engaged facially at all times, which takes some concentration,
especially on the part of a fifth- grader. He is fabulous, period.
A delightful production,
thanks to the efforts and talents of director Ed Flesch, choreographer Buddy
Reeder, musical director Mary Ehlinger and costume designer Robin Buerger, among
“Mary Poppins” runs
through April 20 at the Fireside Theatre, 1131 Janesville Ave., Fort Atkinson.
For show times and tickets, call 800-477-9505 or visit www.firesidetheatre.com.