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Articles by Jane Elkin

Practically Perfect in every way

It’s always dangerous to take on a classic; the chances of disappointment are so great. Who could ever compete with Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews as Bert the Chimney Sweep and Mary Poppins? Popular brother-and-sister team Nathan Bowen and Emily Mudd, that’s who.

            And what about this new script (2005) with its added plot twist and songs? Won’t the audience revolt? No. They gobble it up like a Spoonful of Sugar. This is a story that never grows old and hands down the most thrilling and professional amateur musicals I have ever had the privilege of reviewing.

            “Sometimes families are upside down for a time,” Mary Poppins says, and that’s when she comes in to help right them with her magical ways. Poor Jane and Michael Banks (Sophia Riazi-Sekowski and Nathaniel Burkhead) have a nanny problem. Or more precisely, nannies have a problem with them.

            Their mother Winifred (Mary Schmidt Wakefield) would just as soon have no nanny at all. A former actress, she would rather play with her children than host society teas. But husband George (John Dickson Wakefield) is nothing if not proper. All the best families have nannies; they ensure precision and order and quiet in a way that the housekeeper, Mrs. Brill (Penni Barnett), and the butler, Roberts Ay (Davis Wooten Klebanoff), cannot.

            Mary Poppins answers a want ad the children wrote but never posted for The Perfect Nanny. After beginning her mission, though, Mary Poppins — in a major digression from the film — goes AWOL for a time, replaced by the horrid Miss Andrew (Alexa Haines), the holy terror of George’s childhood and a woman so evil her medicine bottle billows noxious fumes.

            A half dozen new numbers like Miss Andrew’s Brimstone and Treacle enhance the hallmark standards, which on this stage are as much about dancing as singing. Choreographer and Broadway veteran Andrew Gordon can’t help being a center of attention with his stylized prancing, leaps and high kicks. He leads a fine-tuned ensemble of 30 additional cast members in such spectacular group numbers as Step in Time; Let’s Go Fly a Kite with Alan Barnett as the park keeper; and Jolly Holiday, spotlighting the phenomenal Tyler White as the dancing statue Neleus.

            Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, featuring Lydia West as the venerable storekeeper Mrs. Corry, is — well, you know — complete with a Cancan chorus line and pictograms. Carole Long as the Bird Woman delivers a sweet Feed the Birds under a laser-light flight of white doves and accompanied by a church choir worthy of St. James of Piccadilly. The bankers’ theme, Precision and Order, led by the Chairman (Thom Eric Sinn), is seriously funny. This show has more energy than BGE, and at a fraction of the price.

            Visionary imagination and meticulous attention to detail help make this production enchanting. Watch for magical touches like Mary Poppins’ bottomless bag of furnishings and a kitchen disaster that cleans itself. A cadre of hooded Druid-looking figures lends a mildly sinister tone as stagehands moving props and occasionally people — perhaps even to death in one case. There are six opulent sets and over a hundred stunning Edwardian costumes.

            And what splendid casting! Mudd is indeed Practically Perfect, and Bowen’s sweet gentility is crystal clear. The husband and wife team of Wakefields exudes domesticity and testiness as only true marrieds can. All of the leads, even the children, are poised and possessed of charmed voices. In fact, young Riazi-Sekowski performs like a pro rather than a budding scientist entering Greenbelt’s Eleanor Roosevelt High School. Burkhead, an Alexandria sixth grader, has the pure voice of a choirboy. Their presence on an Anne Arundel stage is testament to the drawing power of 2nd Star’s excellent reputation for musical theatre, which will no doubt be recognized again for this production come awards season.

            The show’s only weakness is an under-rehearsed and over-enthusiastic orchestra that sometimes drowns out the actors, a problem that should abate as the Pygmalion effect kicks in.

            If you enjoy musical theater, you can’t afford to miss this tour de force.


            Mary Poppins: a musical based on the stories of P.L. Travers and the Walt Disney Film by Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman, Julian Fellowes, George Stiles, Anthony Drewe and Cameron Mackintosh. Runs two hours and 45 minutes.

            Director: Fred Nelson. Music director: Sandy Melson Griese. Choreographer: Andrew Gordon. Producer: Gene Valendo. Stage manager: Joanne D. Wilson. Set: Jane B. Wingard. Costumes: Linda Swann. Makeup, hair and hats: Sascha Nelson. Lights and Sound: Garrett R. Hyde.

            Playing thru July 1: FSa (except July 1) 8pm, Su and Sa July 1 3pm, 2nd Star Productions, Bowie Playhouse, 16500 White Marsh Park Dr., $22 w/discounts, rsvp: www.2ndstarproductions.com.

Spread the word about this haunted place of miraculous possibilities where the crippled are made whole, body and soul

“I’m sure there is magic in everything,” says the invalid child Colin in The Secret Garden, “only we have not sense to get hold of it.”
    If you want to believe in magic again, see Colonial Players’ production of the children’s classic that has been delighting musical theater audiences for 25 years. With award-winning songs, clever staging and an animated cast, it delivers all the haunting magic of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Edwardian original and then some. Like a dream in black and white, this show blurs the line between this world and the next in spinning the tale of headstrong Mary Lennox (Madi Heinemann), orphaned in India and shipped home to her miserable Uncle Archibald’s (Justin T. Ritchie) English estate. It’s a haunted place of miraculous possibilities where the crippled are made whole, body and soul.
    Colonial’s tiny theater-in-the-round is perfect for the show’s musical narratives enhanced by sharp choreography and an imaginative set. Dance takes center stage as a plot device in the seamless prologue when a scarlet silk handkerchief passed among dancers illustrates the cholera epidemic that orphans Mary. One by one the victims fall, starting with her parents, Captain and Mrs. Lennox (Heather McMunigal and Kory Twit).
    Accompanying the dance is a sterling chorus of neighbors who provide back story and commentary on life at Misselthwaite Manor: Major Holmes (Cory Jones), Alice (Kaelynn Miller), Betsy/Mrs. Winthrop (Erin Branigan), Lt. Shaw (Kyle Gonzalez), Claire Holmes (Kaitlin Fish) and Lt. Wright (Greg Anderson).
    The manor is crawling with ghosts, primary among them Archibald’s wife, Lily (Lindsay Espinosa), who worries over him and their invalid son Colin (Reid Murphy), despite the ministrations of Archie’s jealous physician-brother Neville (Kevin Cleaver). But Mary has the company of a sympathetic maid, Martha (Ella Green), her young brother Dickon (Samuel Edward Ellis) and the gardener, Ben (Danny Brooks). With their help, she discovers Lily’s secret garden and brings its healing power to all the sick and restless.
    With just one piece of furniture, some tissue clouds and myriad special effects, this show conveys a better sense of time, place and action than more opulent productions I have seen. Innovative lighting evokes a full moon, thunderstorms, a skyline of minarets suggesting Mary’s homeland and a robin flitting overhead, symbolized by migrating red chaser lights. Three projectors broadcast films around the theater to simulate actions from the mundane act of opening the curtains to a bucolic train ride and the inner sanctum of the garden beyond its imposing walls.
    The costumes range from drab English earth tones to the tropical whites and lacy gowns of India’s ruling class, where only the turbaned Fakir (Aubrey Baden) and sari-clad Ayah (Fish) dazzle in color. Attention to detail is evident from the housekeeper’s (Cristina Shunk) magnificent key belt to the red trim incorporated into Mary’ dress as she warms to her surroundings.
    Among a cast of talented singers, Ritchie and Espinosa thrill in A Bit of Earth and How Could I Ever Know, and Green delights with her fine Yorkshire accent in A Fine White Horse. Cleaver’s duet with Ritchie (Lily’s Eyes) is unforgettable, and Ellis delights in Wick with a presence that feels metaphysical. Heinemann’s signature song, The Girl I Mean to Be, is charming but difficult to hear over the taped accompaniment — a dilemma common to the other children’s soli and the sole technical problem of this production.
    See this chestnut with someone you love, young or old, and bring a hanky.


By Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon, based on the novel by Frances ­Hodgson Burnett. Director: Lois Evans. Musical Director: Wendy Baird. Choreographer: Carol Cohen. Stage Manager: Andy McLendon. Set: Laurie Nolan. Sound/Effects: Julien C. Jacques. Lights: Eric Lund. Costumes: Jean Carroll Christie. Dialect/Vocal Coach: Nancy Krebs. Musical Accompaniment by Right on Cue Services.

Runs two and a half hours: Thru May 8, Th-Sa at 8pm, Su at 2, Colonial Players, 108 East St. Annapolis. $20 with discounts, rsvp: 410-268-7373; www.thecolonialplayers.org.
 

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