Music Department Brings New Life to Classic
Nostalgia can be a powerful influence on a person’s memory.
Say you go to a carnival every year as a child. That’s where you saw your first clown, rode your first “big kid” ride and the first memory you have of throwing up. As an adult you visit this carnival again only to realize the food is terrible, the rides are in shambles and all of the workers have the smell of alcohol on their breath.
Even though it turns out not to be what you remember, that carnival will always hold a place in your heart because of nostalgia. For me, that carnival is “Mary Poppins.”
I remember watching “Mary Poppins” so many times as a child that I’m surprised the tape didn’t wear out. I loved the songs, I loved the dancing and I loved the nonsense of it all.
“Mary Poppins” holds a special place in my heart, which is why I was so excited to see the musical performed by USM students and produced by the School of Music. As I settled myself in for a wonderful experience, I quickly remembered two things: nostalgia clouds memories and an adaptation is not a copy.
This doesn’t mean that the adaptation won’t be great or heartwarming, but it does mean you have to be open to some change.
In any case, Mike Lopinto, director of “Mary Poppins,” prefaced the performance by saying, “Creating magic, especially Disney magic, is really hard,” he said.
Well, the hard work paid off because the production was phenomenal.
Lori Birrer did a fantastic job of bringing to life Poppins’ loving nature but curt delivery. Peter Lake almost never lost his smile as Bert, playing him as content as ever, and he even included the thick Cockney accent.
The comic relief in the form of the overbearing maid Mrs. Brill, played by Myka Murphy, and the bumbling butler Robertson Ay, played by Michael Boyte, kept me watching them the entire time they were onstage. The entire ensemble did a great job making the scenes come to life, even if the actors were just in the background.
Moreover, the dance numbers were unlike anything I have seen in a live show.
My favorite characters were definitely Jane and Michael Banks, played by Emmie Perkins and Cade Ortego, respectively. Their talent blew me away from their very first song. These young actors had just as much talent as anyone else on stage, and it is clear that if they continue their careers in musical theater, they will have bright futures ahead.
The only flaw I have with the musical is its script, which makes the parents, George Banks and his wife Winifred, very different from the movie. George Banks, played by Matt Bischoff, comes off as very tyrannical toward his wife and children, expecting everything to be perfectly in order. Winifred, played by Michaela Moore, seemed too concerned with being what her husband wanted her to be. But the script isn’t so much flawed as it is different.
The script was produced by Disney Theatrical, which acquired the rights from Cameron Mackintosh, to whom P.L. Travers, the author of the original “Mary Poppins” books, had already sold the rights prior to the classic Disney film’s production.
As I said already, the musical was phenomenal. I couldn’t have imagined a better performance from the cast, yet I didn’t feel satisfied for some reason.
During the “Step in Time” routine, which has always been my favorite, the little girl next to me lit up with joy. She tapped her feet, clapped her hands and laughed at the mounting feats of the chimney sweep dancers. That’s when I remembered what these things are all about.
Classics are often defined as such because they are able to stand the test of time. In an age when children’s entertainment mainly consists of animation and fast-paced action, they may not be able to see the value in something like “Mary Poppins.” But this little girl seemed to love USM’s newly arrived musical.
Even while I may have forgotten to take my nostalgia glasses off when I first arrived, things like this are about making memories for new generations. If today’s children walk away from this production loving “Mary Poppins” as we all do, then the musical did all the right things.
If you are one of the lucky ones who snagged a ticket for this sold-out show, then you’re in for a real treat.