Stage & Dance

‘Mary Poppins’ proves Lexington Theatre Company formula working

Michael (David Hensley) gets a spoonful of sugar from Mary Poppins (Christina DeCicco). The Lexington Theatre Company presents "Disney's Mary Poppins" July 14 to 17, 2016, at the Lexington Opera House, 401 West Short Street.
Michael (David Hensley) gets a spoonful of sugar from Mary Poppins (Christina DeCicco). The Lexington Theatre Company presents "Disney's Mary Poppins" July 14 to 17, 2016, at the Lexington Opera House, 401 West Short Street. rcopley@herald-leader.com

The Lexington Theater Company’s second full production floated into the Lexington Opera House on Thursday evening with a joyful and lithe version of Mary Poppins, a musical based on the Walt Disney film and the book by P.J. Travers, with music and lyrics by Robert B. Sherman and book by Julian Fellowes.

With Broadway star Christina DeCicco in the title role, supported by a strong cast blended of local actors, Broadway veterans, and students, the new company’s second annual summer musical is as uplifting as it is entertaining.

Appealing to a broad audience base — many children were in the audience on opening night — the show reveals directors Jeromy Smith and Lyndy Franklin Smith’s distinctly unique Mary Poppins universe, one that is both deeply familiar and sparklingly new.

Unlike the wall-to-wall showbiz glitz of last year’s foot-stomping production of 42nd Street, Mary Poppins begins with a quiet domestic scene and builds to a crescendo in tandem with Poppins’ increasingly grand feats of magic. Fellowes’ reworking of elements of the book and film, plus new elements, creates a stirring emotional effect.

The Opera House is a lush setting for Christine Peters’ scenic designs of London at the turn of the last century. Those, along with Tanya Harper’s lighting design and Nancy Missimi’s costume design, create a visually rich world, not to mention the many magical places the “practically perfect” nanny takes her charges, such as the outdoor park where the number “Jolly Holiday” introduces the audience to a spate of big numbers. The trio (Poppins, Jane and Michael) even take a trip through the stars.

Choreography recreated and adapted by Brian Collier, based on Matthew Bourne and Stephen Mear’s original work, is particularly enjoyable in color-drenched, high-octane numbers like “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and “Step in Time.”

Cast members effectively put their spin on characters many associate with the film,. Denis Lambert brings mirth and wonder as Bert, narrator and co-hort of Mary Poppins, while Ron Bohmer conveys the opposite as supreme fuddy duddy Mr. Banks. Alexandra Simpson and David Hensley bring an extra dose of mischief — and later, fun and gentleness — to their roles as the Banks children who have terrorized all preceding nannies.

If there is anything the Smiths and their cast do best, it is hitting all of the right emotional notes while wowing the audience with big splashes of entertainment, like when Bert walks up the side of the theater walls in “Step in Time.” If you’ve ever wanted to see someone tap dance on a ceiling, this is your chance. These moments of sweeping joy and bald entertainment are followed by softer moments of reflection and change.

As it is in the Banks household, so it is on stage. DeCicco drives the magic of the show with a portrayal of Mary Poppins that rivals Julie Andrews’ film performance with its precision and polish, but surpasses it in a key way. DeCicco brings more verve and a mischievous sparkle to her eyes than Andrews’ version. Her soaring voice enchants in numbers like Feed the Birds, a duet beautifully rendered with Amanda Balltrip as Bird Woman.

At once magical, moving, and entertaining, The Lexington Theatre Company’s second production proves that last year’s raging success was not a fluke. Their unique model of combining “today’s Broadway stars” with “tomorrow’s Broadway hopefuls” is working; I can’t wait to see what they have in store next year.

Candace Chaney is a Lexington-based writer and critic.

If You Go

‘Mary Poppins’

What: The Lexington Theatre Company production of the Broadway musical

When: 7 p.m. July 15; 1 and 7 p.m. July 16; 1 p.m. July 17

Where: Lexington Opera House, 401 West Short Street

Tickets: $35-$80

Call: 859-233-3535

Online: Lexingtonoperahouse.com, Lexingtontheatrecompany.org

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