TUTS Vancouver’s Mary Poppins Will Make You Believe in Magic

Ranae Miller as Mary Poppins; Photo Credit: Tim Matheson

The first time I watched the movie version of Mary Poppins, I was filled with wonder as the Banks children were introduced to the infinite talents of their new nanny. What would Mary Poppins do next? How could I also enter the world that she created?

That feeling of joyful suspension of disbelief returned when I recently attended a performance of Theatre Under the Stars’ (TUTS’) Mary Poppins (TUTS runs until August 19, 2017). Overall, it was an exuberantly entertaining, talent-packed, and, above all, magical staging of this well-loved Broadway Musical.

TUTS, with over 75 years beguiling local audiences under its belt, is a Vancouver summer tradition. With your date, friends, or family, you’ll make your way to Stanley Park’s outdoor Malkin Bowl where the sky is the theatre’s ceiling and Douglas Firs encircle you. (Make sure to dress accordingly)

Photo Credit: Tim Matheson

The night I went, the weather was perfect. The crowd was mixed, although I spotted many young kids set to enjoy the musical. As the curtains parted and I first glimpsed the Banks’ house on Cherry Tree Lane, I also felt a child-like sense of anticipation.

I was not disappointed. Mary Poppins is certainly not the easiest of productions to mount. Multiple tricky scene changes are required, the number of cast members is sizeable, the storyline follows a haphazard path, and there are magical feats to pull off. The intricacies are dizzying, but TUTS rises to the challenge.

Cast with Mary Poppins (Ranae Miller) and Bert (Victor Hunter); Photo Credit: Tim Matheson

First of all, the set is absolutely ingenious. Hand painted backdrops and set pieces, all vibrantly colourful, give the whole environment an element of whimsy. The main apparatus of the Banks’ house operates like an astonishing 3D puzzle, with the ability to rotate, unfold, and reveal hidden compartments and pieces. It was marvelous to watch as it transformed from the house façade, to the family dining room, to the children’s bedroom, to the kitchen. Other scenes, located in a nearby park and the city’s rooftops, are equally ingenious in their bringing together of the fantastical and the believable. Costumes also pop with flourishes and colour, making the stage a playfully visual feast.

Cast with Mary Poppins (Ranae Miller) and Bert (Victor Hunter); Photo Credit: Tim Matheson

Fortunately, the rest of the production maintains the same level of vibrancy. The calibre of acting, singing, and dancing was top notch, with characters perfectly embodying their roles. Ranae Miller as Mary Poppins has soaring vocals to balance the otherwise no-nonsense groundedness of the character’s demeanour; Russell Roberts plays a convincingly cynical, yet secretly softhearted Mr. Banks, and Lalainia Lindbjerg-Strela perfectly exudes the ambivalence and desire to please of Mrs. Banks.

Clockwise from top: Victor Hunter (Bert), Ranae Miller (Mary), Nolen Dubuc (Michael) and Lola Marshall (Jane); Photo Credit: Tim Matheson

Props especially go to Victor Hunter, who makes the roguish Bert magnetic on stage as he charms the audience, the children, and Mary Poppins herself with his “chim chim cher-ee” ways. And Lola Marshall and Nolen Dubuc, as Jane and Michael Banks respectively, prove themselves to be adept young actors as they depict the Banks children’s struggle to upend their father’s unyielding pragmatism with their mischievous impulses to soar.

Mary Poppins (Ranae Miller), Bert (Victor Hunter), Jane Banks (Lola Marshall), and Michael Banks (Nolen Dubuc); Photo Credit: Tim Matheson

Other cast members, like Cecilia Smith as the elderly woman feeding the birds, are equally convincing and endearing. Meanwhile, the supporting chorus adds their talent and enthusiasm to the mix as well.

With such strong vocals, it was a delight to listen to (and sing along to) some of my favourite Mary Poppins’ tunes, such as “A Spoonful of Sugar” and “Let’s Go Fly a Kite.” The choreography of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” with its abundance of energy and infectiously frenetic dance sequences, is, without a doubt, the highlight of the whole show (audience members spontaneously began to clap to the beat when I was there).

L to R: Nolen Dubuc (Michael), Ranae Miller (Mary) and Lola Marshall (Jane); Photo Credit: Tim Matheson

Finally, Mary Poppins would lose its appeal if not for a liberal dose of magic, and TUTS’ production delivers in wonderfully unexpected ways. From dancing penguins to plates that self-rearrange, to statues that spontaneously come to life, the show truly makes magic believable and visually present. Director Shel Piercy, choreographer Nicol Spinola, and musical director Wendy Bross Stuart have done a phenomenal job. In short, this is a production that needs to be seen this summer in Vancouver.

 TUTS runs until August 19, 2017, with Mary Poppins alternating nights with The Drowsy Chaperone, a Jazz-era musical journey and parody. See on-line for further details and ticket information.

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