I’ve always said that there’s nothing like a live performance. An evening at the theater is one of those unique experiences that helps us understand humanity in a bigger sense; it is a cultural activity that fosters both creativity and imagination. For Mother’s Day, I had the pleasure of continuing the tradition of taking my mother to see a live performance. This year’s pick: Disney and Cameron Mackintosh’s Mary Poppins staged by the Augusta Players at the historic Imperial Theatre in Downtown Augusta, Georgia. The Players have a track record of producing first-class Broadway-like productions, and as someone who has seen the 1964 Julie Andrews movie more times than he can count, I had the bar set very high as to what I expected to see onstage. What the Players delivered was just that, and more.
From the moment the orchestra played its tuning note, it was easy to tell that the sold out show was going to be a great one. The little ones sitting next to us seemed to be bursting at the seams with excitement as they could not sit still in anticipation for the show to begin. Little did everyone know, I was just as excited as they were (just better at hiding it; it is not socially acceptable for a 16-year-old to jump up and down in the theater aisle.)
Disney’s overly-sweet spin on the original story by P.L. Travers is not prominent in the stage version. In fact, it was Cameron Mackintosh, who has produced many well-known musicals such as Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera, who secured the rights to take this story to the stage. In return, however, he promised Travers he would not make the story as jubilant as Disney has done. Disney’s wildly popular tunes that we all know and love were included in this version to appeal to a greater audience, and the partnership between Disney and Mackintosh was born.
The final result is a beautiful, fun, well-presented production under the direction of Debi Ballas and staged by Richard B. Justice. Musical Director Zachary Bradley gives an added level of professionalism to the show, demanding an exceptional performance from the orchestra and singers alike. The dazzling choreography by Carrie Anderson is the icing on the cake the production needs with the musical numbers “Step In Time” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” standing out as lively and energetic.
In addition to the phenomenal performers, the set, built by Dave Bellmer, Brice Wright and Kevin Reynolds and scenic painting led by Bethany Harwell, was nothing short of impressive. The design accomplished the goal of taking us to the rooftops of London, and the scene transitions were executed smoothly. The set’s design became an integral part of the show, complimenting the performers as they flew through the air (and even walked on the proscenium!) This relationship gave the focus more to the performers rather than the technical elements. This was a refreshing view of the timeless classic.
In the show, Mary Poppins played by Mary Diesch is often accompanied by her companion Bert, portrayed by Paul L. Jones, in her outings. The connection between the two performers onstage made the performance believable and enjoyable. Other standouts from the cast include Amy Patton who demands the focus of the audience, portraying both the Bird Woman and “the Holy Terror” Miss Andrew, who is a major antagonist in the show. Mr. George Banks played by Casey Johnson and Mrs. Winnifred Banks played by Lori Van Lenten standout as remarkable, delivering nothing short of a spectacular performance. The dance and children’s ensemble also add another level of authenticity to the show, bringing life, energy and a believable performance to every square foot of the Imperial stage.
The culmination of charming and authentic costumes, energetic performers, toe-tapping music make the Augusta Players’ Mary Poppins practically perfect in every way.
The Augusta Players production of Mary Poppins was presented May 6 – 8, 2016 at The Imperial Theatre in Augusta, GA. Visit http://www.augustaplayers.org for upcoming show information.