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Cedar City • Utah Shakespeare Festival's "Mary Poppins" is an eye-poppingly colorful family musical that smartly employs its theatrical magic.
The show's leads Elizabeth Broadhurst's Mary Poppins and Eddie Lopez's Bert offer strong performances that will only ripen with nuance as the run continues. In costume, the actors share enough resemblance to Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke that parents nostalgic for the 1964 movie will be satisfied. And the actors gracefully lead the song-and-dance spectacles that should win over younger theatergoers to the joys of live performance.
During its 2006 Broadway and the following national tour, which played a long Salt Lake City run in 2011, the musical seemed overstuffed with tricks, as if the creators didn't trust the story's heart.
What guest director Karen Azenberg's production gets right is its restraint. In this version, for example, Bert doesn't tap dance on the ceiling while singing a key change.
Who knows how Broadhurst is able to hit her notes without mussing her practically perfect red lipstick, but she conveys the mix of distance and absolute authority of pop culture's most famous nanny. She doesn't quite wink at the audience, but the actor's spit-spot confidence still invites us into the story, while her flying stunts are presented with a no-sweat aplomb.
As Bert, Lopez delivers character-actor expressiveness with a lead's vocal confidence: He's simply terrific without overdoing the role's brand of chimney-sweep whimsy.
The secondary leads, Chris Mixon as banker George Banks and Susanna Florence as his wife, Winifred, make their cardboard characters real. Mixon employs eye-popping expressions and the order and precision of well-honed comedic timing. Florence's beautiful voice and graceful, hand-worrying gestures make "Being Mrs. Banks" seem like more than just a plot complication. Bree Murphy's Miss Andrew, Mr. Banks' former nanny nicknamed "The Holy Terror," is a comic wonder, yet not-nightmare-inducing, villain.
Bird Woman Latoya Cameron offers a beautiful turn with her iconic "Feed the Birds," well served by her incredibly detailed makeup. The kids, Mila Belle Howells' Jane Banks and Andrew Barrick's Michael Banks, are charming in their spotlighted roles, and mostly refrain from the annoying mugging that plagues most child actor performances.
Brenda Van der Wiel's costumes are outrageously interesting, while Jo Winiarski's and Kirk Bookman's set and lighting designs have the gritty magic of stardust and chimney soot.
The dances, originally created by Azenberg with additional choreography by Lenny Daniel, offer beautiful eye pictures on classic numbers such as "Jolly Holiday," "A Spoonful of Sugar," "Chim Chim Cher-ee," "Step in Time," "Let's Go Fly a Kite" and, of course, the ever-catchy "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious." "Precision and Order," a number set at Mr. Banks' bank, brims with visual wit.
While there isn't much that's new here, this is a beautifully appointed production that doesn't let its tricks upstage the performances. The show offers spoonfuls of stage sugar along with the right amount of comic spice.
A jolly holiday
An eye-poppingly colorful Utah Shakespeare production of the Disney musical "Mary Poppins," anchored by strong leads, delivers iconic fun.
Where • Randall L. Jones Theatre, 299 W. Center St., Cedar City
When • Reviewed July 8; continues in repertory at 2 and 8 p.m. through Sept. 2
Tickets • $32-$73 (plus $4 additional fees); 800-PLAYTIX (752-9849), 435-586-7878 or bard.org/tickets
Parking • Free; northwest corner of 300 West and Center Street; no permit needed
Also • Greenshow, a half-hour show, plays north of the Engelstad Theatre at 7:10 p.m.; free
Child care • $20 per show; reservations needed; 800-PLAYTIX
Running time • Two hours and 40 minutes, with intermission