'Mary Poppins' has heart, soul and something to say
Stage • Tuacahn production offers catchy songs, special effects and message.
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Ivins • "Mary Poppins" and "thought-provoking" are not often heard in the same sentence.

But Tuacahn's production of the musical, based on P.L. Travers' books, is a rare family show not filled with fluff.

This Broadway stage version is different from what most of us know from the 1964 Disney movie.

With wonderful staging, catchy songs and amazing special effects "Mary Poppins" examines many issues. Themes border on the dark side with discussions of aging, the perils of parenting, a troubled marriage, a woman trying to find her role in society, child abuse, abusive uncaring banks, class warfare and how the poor are treated.

It's painfully obvious that everything isn't peachy on 17 Cherry Tree Lane.

I came away genuinely moved, something I never expected.

Parents trying to decide whether to take their kids to see "Mary Poppins" or Tuacahn's other major summer outdoor production, "Starlight Express," may want to select the latter. Surprisingly, adults will relate better to "Mary Poppins" than the children.

It would be difficult to find fault with director Scott Anderson's vision of this musical. There are no weak cast members, the songs and dance numbers are dazzling, the sets simple but effective and Tuacahn's signature special effects plentiful.

Expect to see numerous hard-to-explain magic tricks, fireworks, a flying Mary Poppins, and a chimney sweep walking up a wall and then strolling upside down high above the stage. There also are live horses onstage, and statues, dolls and toys come alive. Even the challenges of a windy southern Utah evening Monday night almost added to the spectacle.

When Mindy Smoot Robbins, who will alternate in the title role with Gail Bennett throughout the summer, sang the emotionally resonant "Anything Can Happen" near the end of the performance on a mostly darkened stage, it was possible to see the Big Dipper in the sky and what looked like real tears in Smoot Robbins' eyes.

Smoot Robbins offered everything you want in a Mary Poppins: a wonderful voice, a strong stage presence and the ability to pull off big production numbers "in a most unusual way."

The stage version differs from the movie in the way David Engel and Jennifer Evans play George and Winifred Banks. In the movie version, David Tomlinson and Glynis Johns are almost cartoonish. Engel and Johns turn the troubled couple into real people struggling with problems a modern audience might face. They provide the production's "soul."

George may be cold and distant with his children because his own parents ignored him and his nanny Miss Andrew, who makes a memorable appearance in the second half as a temporary replacement for Mary Poppins, was abusive. And Winifred is a complex, modern woman searching to find herself. She is much more interesting than the Mrs. Banks in the film.

The children, Michael and Jane —played by young Grant Westcott and Lauren Allen — combine bratty and sweet, and prove to be the perfect foils for nanny Mary Poppins' antics.

Jesse Swimm's Bert ably moves the show along, whether in kite-flying park scene or chimney-hopping dance numbers.

Most of the movie's signature songs, including "Chim Chim Cher-ee," "A Spoonful of Sugar," "Feed the Birds," "Let's Go Fly a Kite" and, of course, Supercalifragilisticexpialdocious," remain and fit well into the story line.

The sets struggled at times with the windy conditions. One of Mary Poppins' magic tricks didn't quite work because the wind broke some plates. Stagehands struggled to keep a door in the set closed. At one point, a couch in the living room moved several feet on its own. But none of this seemed to bother the professional cast.

In the end, Tuacahn's "Mary Poppins" is more than a fluffy kids story with a lot of special effects. It's a story with a heart, a soul and something to say.

wharton@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribtomwharton —

'Mary Poppins' at Tuacahn

Don't expect to see a repeat of the fluffy Disney movie. This stage version has a dark side, tackling societal issues with heart and soul.

When • Through Oct. 25, Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights. June through Aug. 10, 8:45 p.m.; Aug. 15-31, 8:30 p.m.; September, 8 p.m.; October, 7:30 p.m.

Tickets • $29.50-$79.50

Where • Tuacahn Outdoor Amphitheatre, Ivins

Tickets • $29.50-$79.50