It’s unavoidable; I have to say it: Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre’s production of Disney and Cameron Mackintosh’s Mary Poppins is practically perfect. (Saying it was perfect would give the cast and crew nothing more to strive for, something Mary Poppins would not approve of.)
You might think that a musical with such illustrious names attached to it would be a shoo-in for the win, but while Disney’s screen-to-stage adaptations have so far been admirable (if not downright mesmerizing, i.e., The Lion King), Sir Cameron’s name (Les Mis, Phantom, etc.) doesn’t guarantee a golden ticket (i.e., the dead horse he kept beating, Moby Dick, an incarnation of which Indianapolis was subjected to in 2003). Mary Poppins enjoyed a healthy run on Broadway and garnered a best-musical Tony nomination in 2007, so if not a blockbuster, it was a qualitative success.
Unfazed by a few minuscule opening night mishaps, the entirety of the cast, crew, and orchestra exhibited such skill and performed a show of such quality that they put this community theater on par with any professional theater organization. The music itself is challenging, but the choreography demands even more of the performers, and each cast member has perfected each step, each note, and each line, working with director and choreographer Anne Nicole Beck and musical director Brent E. Marty. Ditto for the behind-the-scenes folks, such as costuming (Adrienne L. Conces), set (J. Branson), and lighting (Ryan Koharchik).
While there are differences between this and the 1964 movie, many favorites remain. “Feed the Birds” (sung by Krista Wright) reminds us of the beauty in this soundtrack—one that many of us grew up with.
As it should be, the two standouts among this exemplary cast are Jeremy Shivers-Brimm as a spry and charming Bert and Devan Mathias as the prim yet playful Mary Poppins. Both are vocal and character perfection, but they go above and beyond (ahem) as well by submitting themselves to the cable work that propels them through the air. Shivers-Brimm proves his commitment even further by taking a walk across the stage’s ceiling area upside down.
The excellent quartet of J. Stuart Mill, Carrie Neal, Anjali Rooney, and Mitchell Wray make up the Banks family. (A note about kids on stage: You often have to factor in their age when evaluating their performance, but Rooney and Wray are little stars.) These core characters are surrounded by minor characters and an ensemble that are more than just “supporting” actors—they are accomplished performers as well.
Mary Poppins at Civic is worth every dime of its ticket price.