By Oline H. Cogdill
The first question most audience members will have about Slow Burn Theatre Company’s production of Mary Poppins is, does the iconic nanny fly?
She does indeed, high above the rooftops of London, up among the stars and over the ensemble as the audience watches in awe in this glorious production presented through April 9 in the Amaturo Theater at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts.
As the song goes, this Mary Poppins is “Practically Perfect,” superbly directed by Patrick Fitzwater. With a cast of 32, plus the technical crew, Mary Poppins is the largest production since Slow Burn was begun in 2009 by Fitzwater and actor Matthew W. Korinko. This commitment and hard work show in each scene and musical number in Mary Poppins.
The Slow Burn production epitomizes sheer entertainment, so much so that on opening night at least three numbers elicited standing ovations from the audience of all ages. Not just enthusiastic applause but thunderous, on your feet appreciation.
The delight begins with jack-of-all trades, Bert, introducing the musical with his signature song “Chim Chim Cher-ee.” As Bert, Orlando-based actor Adam T. Biner, who we hope to see more of in South Florida, immediately wins over the audience with his full vocals and limber movements, taking us to London’s Cherry Tree Lane during 1910 and introducing the Banks family.
The Banks are not a happy family. Father George Banks (a terrific Matthew W. Korinko) chooses work over his family, ignoring his devoted wife, Winifred (an appealing April Strelinger), and preferring his children Jane and Michael be seldom seen and never heard, not even to say good night.
It’s no wonder that Jane and Michael are brats, having gone through many nannies who can’t stand their disobedience and pranks. George won’t hear of going without a nanny as “all the best people” employ one and George so wants he and his wife to be among the elite. George often waxes nostalgically about his own nanny who he credits with making him the cold, buttoned-up man he is, as if that’s something to be proud of.
As Winifred begins to compose an advertisement seeking a nanny, the children compose their own detailing the type they want. Before either ad goes to press, in strolls Mary Poppins, a wonderful Melissa Whitworth, whose entrance stops the play as her appearance alone brings as much applause as would Julie Andrews or Emily Blunt.
Orlando-based Whitworth embodies all that Mary Poppins is—stern, but kind, tolerating no nonsense and “practically perfect.” Mary Poppins has to command the entire production, as does Whitworth, last seen in South Florida as Louise in the Wick’s production of Gypsy. This is the fourth time Whitworth has played the nanny and she knows the role inside and out.
Mary Poppins uses magic and common sense to corral the children, while showing they should not discount or feel entitled to others as she takes them on magical and memorable adventures. Sure, Bert sometimes has dirt on his face and the woman selling bird fee seems a bit dotty, but everyone has value and no one is superior to anyone, regardless of their station in life. Besides, those chimney sweeps are a lot of fun, and darn good dancers. Mary Poppins also manages to teach the adult Banks the value of loving each other and enjoying the moment. Her mantra “Anything can happen if you let it” proves true.
Fitzwater lead the cast in real showstoppers, including “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” “Step in Time” (in which Bert also takes to the sky in an acrobatic dance), “A Spoonful of Sugar”—each number deserving the audience’s enthusiasm. At times, the mood-setting fog got a little out of hand opening night.
A strong supporting cast includes Heather Jane Rolff doing triple duty as Queen Victoria, Miss Andrews and Bird Woman (a lovely rendition of “Feed the Birds”); Ellie Pattison as indispensable Mrs. Brill; a humorously befuddled Stephen Fala as Robertson Ay; Dalia Aleman as the dog-loving Miss Lark and the stern Miss Smythe; Michael Kreutz as a funny Admiral Boom and the stern Bank Chairman; Michael Scott Ross as Park Keeper; an acrobatic Samuel Colina as the statue come to life Neleus; Kareema Khouri as Miss Corry; as well as the rest of the tight ensemble. Kudos to the acting and singing talents by the child actors Stella Macey, who played Jane Banks on opening night; the role is shared during some performances by Victoria Vasquez; and Nate Colton as Michael on opening night, a role shared by Spencer Hanan.
Raves go to Michael Ursua as music director; Andre Russell as assistant stage manager and props design and projections; Brandy Demil as production stage manager; lighting design by Clifford Spulock; sound design by Patrick Fiztwater. The exciting costumes are from Tuacahn Costume Rentals and coordinated by Rick Pena, no easy job. Compliments also to child wrangler Daniel Povea. The choreography is based the original London and Broadway choreography by Matthew Bourne and Stephen Mere that was staged for this production by Ashley Rubin.
A perfectly delightful Mary Poppins takes flight via Slow Burn.
Disney’s and Cameron Macintosh’s Mary Poppins presented by Slow Burn Theatre Company runs through April 9 at the Amaturo Theater, Broward Center For The Performing Arts, 201 SW 5th Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Performances are Wednesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday at 1 p.m., Sunday at 6:30 p.m. March 29 performance at 11 a.m. Sensory Inclusive Performance at 1 p.m. April 1. Running time two hours, 20 minutes with one 20-minute intermission. Tickets are $49 to $67. Call (954) 462-0222 for tickets, at www.browardcenter.org or in person at the Broward Center’s Auto Nation Box Office. Info at www.slowburntheatre.org.