BWW Review: MARY POPPERS Is Pure Gold Dust
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by Nancy Grossman
CAST: Olive Another (Mary Poppins), Billy Hough (Burt), Grace Carney (Jane Banks), Liza Lott (Michael Banks), Ryan Landry (Mr. Banks), Penny Champayne (Mrs. Banks), Patty York (Constable), Robin Banks (Newsboy), Chris Pittman (Viola Davis), Delta Miles (Cook), Gary Croteau (Sloan, Jr.), Jim Byrne (Sloan, Sr.), Rhoda (Herself)
Performances through May 20 by the Gold Dust Orphans at Machine, 1254 Boylston Street, Boston; Tickets can be purchased at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/238251
First things first: Do NOT bring your children to Mary Poppers, the latest original musical parody by Ryan Landry and the Gold Dust Orphans. However, DO bring yourself and any open-minded adults you know who need a night out filled with clever repartée, flights of the imagination (as well as flying miniature nannies), and kickin' production numbers danced with wild abandon by an eclectic group of talented performers. This is classic Landry and GDO material twenty years in the making, simultaneously displaying irreverence and paying loving homage to the source, right down to Mary's oversized carpet bag and parrot-head umbrella.
In an unexpected casting decision, Landry steps back from the forefront to take a supporting comic turn as the fusty Mr. Banks, placing the spotlight on Olive Another as the leading lady and she does not disappoint. She commands the stage – and the Banks household – from her entrance when she lays out the terms of her employment to the father, through her adventures with the children, saving Mr. Banks' job, and a brief stint in jail. Olive plays Mary as a dual personality, rapidly shifting from treacle to tirade, reminiscent of Miss Piggy; her sweet lilt becomes a guttural growl if she is displeased, making it clear that the scenery-chewing nanny is not to be trifled with.
The effervescent Mary in this version doesn't just teach her charges about a spoonful of sugar helping the medicine go down; she recruits them to help her create the stuff in their bedroom which she converts into a crystal meth lab. The parents are oblivious as father has problems at work and the self-absorbed Mrs. Banks (Penny Champayne) is a suffragette, too busy protesting in the streets to keep track of what's going on with Mary and the kids. Jane (Grace Carney) and Michael (Liza Lott) are pouty and uncommunicative until Mary works her magic with the aid of chimney sweep Burt (Billy Hough), her friend-with-benefits. It's a hoot to watch Carney and Lott transform from Disney types into clones of Wednesday and Pugsley Addams.
Hough serves as de facto storyteller with a twinkle in his eye and a charming capacity to go from an Emmett Kelly frown to a Cheshire Cat grin in a flash. He has the pipes to deliver on several songs and is a nimble dancer. Carney solos on a surprisingly poignant ballad (that was unfortunately marred by being too close to the hand-held microphone) and harmoniously blends her voice with Lott on a couple of duets. They also vigorously join in on the big production numbers. The ensemble members play multiple roles as nannies, household staff, chimney sweeps, constables, firefighters, inmates, and bankers. Chris Pittman as Viola Davis in the gospel-infused jail cell scene deserves a shout out, as does Delta Miles (aka choreographer Johnnie Pirroni) who sings and dances up a storm.
As usual, the Orphans make clever use of puppets and Windsor Newton's set design is colorful and cartoonish (in a good way). Scott Martino nails the design for Mary's suit and hat, and his styles for the Banks family and ensemble are evocative. I especially liked the palette and Busby Berkeley choreography for the musical number with the human flowers. Sound cues are right on schedule, thanks to Roger Moore, although it would be helpful to use more voice amplification, and Director James P. Byrne keeps the craziness from spinning out of control. He effectively uses every area of the intimate space and you have to stay alert to catch all of the sight gags that happen away from the center stage.
Landry's book tells the story in his signature style, and he makes excellent use of the musical numbers to develop character and advance the plot. The songs represent various genres, including march, disco, jazz, and Broadway show tunes. You might notice that there are a few borrowed melodies, but Landry's substitute lyrics make them pure Gold Dust. As performed by the accomplished, energetic ensemble, Mary Poppers is solid gold.
Photo credit: Michael von Redlich/MvR Photography (Grace Carney, Billy Hough, Olive Another)