Since the 1964 release of the movie of the same name, Mary Poppins has enjoyed never ending popularity. So, it was no surprise to see an all ages audience pack the Olde Walkerville Theatre Sunday afternoon for the Riverfront Theatre Company’s presentation of Disney and Cameron MacIntosh’s Mary Poppins, the Broadway Musical. While it opened on Friday night, additional performances are scheduled for later this week on May 24, 25, & 26.
For many, particularly for those with grey or greying hair, it was a trip down memory lane to once again hear and tap along to the memorable beat of some of the world’s most beloved songs. For the younger generation, it was a trip down Cherry Tree Lane in London where the odds are good, at least in 1910, they’d find the Banks family, one in need indeed of a nanny and, as luck would have it, ends up with one that is “practically perfect in every way.”
Curiously, at the time, there was considerable debate among polite society in England on whether those in such positions should be nurses or proper ladies. Possibly it never dawned on the debaters to consider a third option, ones with magical capabilities.
Poppins proves to the Banks’ children, Jane and Michael, that she is a little beyond average when she pulls a full-sized hat rack out of her very standard overnight bag, in the belief hats, like hers, need such racks. Seeing such a contradiction of spatial reality, Jane, acted with perfect child wonderment by Josephine Cormier tells her brother, played with equal wonderment by Cooper Kemp, such an auspicious arrival demands that they, “keep an eye on this one, she’s tricky.”
Poppins is played with incredible style and character by the highly talented Meredith Garswood who keeps a stiff upper lip throughout the play, as is the wont of a nanny, while working her magic in the background and talking and singing in a perfect British accent respective of the locale.
But, her value to the family is not quite evident to Mr. Banks, acted by Ryan MacLean with incredible sincerity and appropriate sternness for an early 20th Century British gentleman. As his world falls apart, including an impending loss of his job as a banker, he is convinced the family’s newly arrived travails are the fault of Miss Poppins and start at the same time she turns up on his doorstep even before he advertises his need for a nanny’s services.
Director Kristina Garswood tells Eyes On Windsor, her company had been wanting to stage the Poppins’ play for years but was held back by a shortage of tap dancers. Last year facing the same situation, the company decided to train its own to spectacular advantage, particularly for the song Step In Time, a chimney sweeper spectacle.
Of course, there is no Mary Poppins without the music, including the blockbusters A Spoonful of Sugar, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious and Chim Chim Cher-ee led with considerable adroitness by Julian David playing Bert, probably the globe’s most popular chimney sweeper. He also plays, with considerable credibility for such a young man, the long in the tooth and white bearded Bank Chairman.
Getting to the point of the opening curtain took considerable effort. It started last September. Director Garswood explains sessions commenced weekly but by December they were already blocking the play’s stage movements and putting all the technical details together.
It is one chore to plot out the moves of the actors. Equally demanding and requiring considerable plotting is the work of stage hands Elijah David, Eddie Toohey, Melanie Tennant, Shannon Porcellini and Perla Alejandra Layman. They do an incredible job attaining flawless set changing precision. It is ample proof, in the spirit of Poppins herself, that “anything can happen if you let it.”
Another aspect of the play is the wardrope. A team of Shannon Porcellini, Pam Mizuno, Andrea Sabine, Leanne Pinkowski and Jennifer Flynne, under the direction of Denise Duckett honour the era with appropriate clothing. What stands out the most is the vibrant yet well-tailored outfits of Poppins which certainly telegraph that she is not the usual child minder.
Wearing those meticulously designed clothes are some 28 key players including Mrs. Winifred Banks, played with great motherly instincts by Ayslin Downhill. A hard role was easily taken on by Brooke Samms, that of the nanny replacing Poppins. She uses a touch of arrogance to showcase the genuineness of Miss Poppins.
Katie Hales is superb in her role as Miss Brill the cook who leaves simple enough instructions that do not include Jane Banks making cake icing with little more than eggs.
This is the 15th year of productions for the non-profit Riverfront Theatre Company formed to provide acting opportunities for the area’s youth. Cathy Banks, the mother of Ryan MacLean, who holds the key role of Mr. Banks, talked with Eyes On Windsor of how valuable the program has been to her son, particular the confidence it has given him to speak in public. This skill should put him in good stead once he starts architectural studies at the University of Windsor this fall.
He is one of five fellow actors graduating from the program this year. The others are Brooke Samms (Mrs. Corey), Matt Hogan (alternatively Mr. Banks), chimney sweep Julian David and Miss Poppins herself, the impeccable Meredith Garswood.
Putting together and executing this very complex play with so many moving parts was no easy task but one the cast and crew, some 65 strong, shouldered without a hitch making for entertainment of a remarkable high quality, well worth watching.
Tickets for the show are $15 each for adults and $10 for students under 18 years old. For more information or to purchase tickets call the Box Office at (519)-253-2929 or visit https://www.oldewalkervilletheatre.com
Article by Robert Tuomi
For over a decade, Robert has covered local news and community events. Initially as a contributor to CBC Radio’s local morning show and then as the long-time producer and host of CJAM’s The Rest of the News and as a journalist at the Windsor Square. A graduate of the Nikon School of Photography he enjoys illustrating his reports with what he sees through his camera’s lens.