Theater & Dance
Review
"Mary Poppins"

By: Disney and Cameron Mackintosh, book by Julian Fellowes, based on stories by P.L. Travers
Original songs and lyrics by: Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman
New songs and additional music and lyrics by: George Stiles and Anthony Drewe
Produced by: Hillbarn Theatre
Directed by: Dan Demers
Choreographed by: Michelle Shannon
Music direction by: Gregory Cheng
Featuring:Caitlin McGinty, Jim Ambler, Katherine Stein, Fred Feizollllahi, Katie Maupin, Andrew Marheineke, Darnline Batchelder, Noah Boger, Rebecca Cartetis, Evelyn Chan, Alyson Chilton, Gary Giurbino, Sarah Hammond, Abby Haug, Paris, Howard, Tristan Howard, Ron Lopez Jr., Michelle M. Jenni Martin, Elana Ron, Katherine Stein, Jay Thulien, Lisa W. Molly Zwiebach, Paul Estioko, Regina Quigley, Susie Toussaint and Kyle Arrouzet
When: November 25 through December 18, 2016
Where: Hillbarn Theatre, 1285 East Hillsdale Boulevard, Foster City
Tickets: $45-$48. Call 650-349-6422, extension 2, or visit www.hillbarntheatre.org

Read a feature about Caitlin McGinty.

McGinty, Maupin, Stein, Marheineke, Ambler
Mark & Tracy Photography / Hillbarn Theatre
Having fun with "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" are, from left in front, Caitlin McGinty as Mary Poppins, Katie Maupin as Jane Banks, Katherine Stein as Mrs. Corry, Andrew Marheineke as Michael Banks and Jim Ambler as Bert, in Hillbarn Theatre's "Mary Poppins," running November 25 through December 18, 2016.
Great cast makes the most
of a delightful 'Mary Poppins'
Hillbarn Theatre outdoes itself with fabulous show
November 28, 2016

Hillbarn Theatre, the little theater that can and does, has assembled a magnificent cast for its production of "Mary Poppins," and it is a can't-miss treat.

Yes, there are some very small flaws, with the orchestra, the sound, the sets and the costumes, but they are minor in nature, and this great cast just powers through them like a bulldozer.

What a cast. The principals are all excellent, starting with Caitlin McGinty, who is a fabulous and very charming Mary Poppins. She has that practically perfect mix of sweetness and sternness with the children, and looks absolutely fabulous in her costumes, by Mary Cravens and Shannon Maxham.

At six feet tall, beautiful McGinty towers over most of the other principals, but that just helps her take charge, which is exactly what the famous nanny is supposed to do.

And, she is an excellent actor, singer and dancer.

One of those minor problems on Saturday had to do with one of McGinty's costume changes, when she switched out of her nanny's uniform for a colorful dress, but couldn't get the back buttoned up before she had to be out on stage again. Big dance number with the full ensemble, and several performers tried to get her closed up but failed, so we all got to see the harness she wears for the flying scenes, and the antenna for her wireless microphone.

But, as noted, the cast just powered through it, and it was good fun to see them all dancing to the great music.

Jim Ambler is delightful as Bert, the chimney sweep/street artist. He's a Broadway and road-show vet who makes Bert the exact avuncular nice guy/best buddy we want him to be. Plus, he sings quite well and dances with considerable brio. Great as Bert, funny as the bank chairman of the board.

The two children are excellent. Sure, they can dance and sing, but they are also true actors, fully invested in every moment of the show. Katie Maupin as Jane, Andrew Marheineke as Michael are both fabulous.

Jim Ambler
Mark & Tracy Photography / Hillbarn Theatre
Jim Ambler as chimney-sweep Bert, in "Mary Poppins."

Darlene Batchelder is quite good as Queen Victoria and as the Bird Woman, but she absolutely blows the doors off the joint as Mrs. Andrews, especially during her duet with McGinty, when Mary Poppins and Mrs. Andrews have a screeching fight that was an adrenalin rush for the audience. Wow, what voices!

Katherine Stein is very, very charming as Mrs. Corry, with her winged eyelashes and big, beautiful, orange dress with the letters in the pockets. She is adorable, and it was very difficult at the end of the show to take eyes off her smile to watch what anybody else was doing.

Fred Feizollahi was impressive as he took George Banks on his roller-coaster ride of different emotional situations, from being the stern authority figure to being the worried dad to being the goofy dad. Abby Haug at Winifred Banks, the mother, did well with Winifred's range of reactions to the nuttiness going on around her.

Jennifer Martinelli made a fine Mrs. Brill, always dusting and trying to keep Robertson Ay, the other servant, from breaking things. Ron Lopez Jr. was delightful to watch as Robertson. Lopez never fails to amuse with his big, expressive face.

There are lots of other excellent performances in this huge cast, all very well directed by Hillbarn Artistic Executive Dan Demers, who has again and again proven his brilliance with musical comedy. He has a deft hand, has Demers.

Music Director Gregory Cheng and his 18-piece (!!!) orchestra and vocal quartet were in a new place, on a riser in back and behind the stage, and it worked rather well most of the time. It was great to be able to see Cheng conducting, and sometimes see at least heads of other musicians, behind the scenery. And starting out, at least, it seemed like the orchestra would not overwhelm the vocals, which is a chronic problem at Hillbarn.

Alas, there were a few times the orchestra simply got too loud, and others when performers' face mics didn't seem to be working.

When Cheng kept the volume down, and the mics worked, Larry Tasse's sound design worked extremely well.

The orchestra itself only grades about a C. Besides the problem with dynamics, there were occasional bits of wheeziness and off-key playing. It will probably get better with every performance.

Don Coluzzi's scenic design was delightful, with comfy pastel colors for the outside of buildings, and an interior of the Banks home was practically perfect for an upper class British home. A big set piece turns around to be an exterior or an interior, or is wheeled offstage to allow a bedroom set to come forward. Eric Olson and Adria Olson are probably responsible for Mary Poppins' wonderful travel bag, from which she extracts a tall hat rack that is patently too tall for that bag.

(Sitting in the front row, my grandchildren and I all tried to see if there was a trap door under the bed on which the bag was sitting, but could not see it. Magic!)

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The only cavil is the fake fireplace, into which Banks throws the children's advertisement for a nanny ("Rosy cheeks, no warts; play games, all sorts"). The torn pieces of paper are still there when Mary flies in with what is supposed to be the torn letter, repaired.

Speaking of the flying, which was, for the most part, fun, two suggestions: Don't make Mary face-plant the side of the Banks house when she wants to fly up to have fun with Bert; and hang a curtain between the audience and the enormous machinery and rail that makes the actors fly. It's disturbing to be able to see that huge, black chunk of machinery hanging right over Mary's head.

We all know the story, right? Two kids with busy parents have driven off all their nannies. Mary Poppins flies in under her umbrella and takes charge. The children love her and she makes life bearable in the Banks home. Then she leaves, and life goes bad again. When she comes back again, all the adults learn their lessons, and it is a happy home.

The original music and lyrics, by Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman, are fabulous and often quite beautiful, even during those times when members of the orchestra strayed off note. The musical is stuffed giddy with memorable tunes, from "Chim Chim Cher-ee" to "Jolly Holiday" to "A Spoonful of Sugar" to "A Man Has Dreams" to "Feed the Birds" to "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" to "Step in Time" to "Let's Go Fly a Kite."

Gripe about the music: In "Jolly Holiday," when Bert sings about his heart beating like a big brass band, no big bass drum was heard. What's up with that? And "Feed the Birds," which can be lovely, was somehow oddly truncated.

Let none of that dissuade you from seeing this show. I have seen it elsewhere when it wasn't done half as well. And a cast of 26 wherein all are excellent? That is seriously rare.

Michelle Shannon's choreography was a ton of fun, and even survived the big dance scene where everybody was trying to get Mary buttoned into her dress. Carson Duper's lighting design kept the show in a magical glow, except for poor Admiral Boom (Gary M. Giurbino), who had to shout his weather prognostications from a stage left balcony in complete darkness, at least the first time.

What a job by costume designers Cravens and Maxham! All those people to dress, and all those costume changes! And kudos, too, to hair and wig designer Dee Morrissey, especially for Mrs. Corry's tall pile of hair.

At 160 minutes, with one intermission, it is a long show, but it is such a delightful production that we remain happy to there. My grandchildren, 8 and 5, were clapping along with "Let's Go Fly a Kite" at the end of the show. High praise, that.

Email John Orr at johnorr@regardingarts.com

Ambler, McGinty, Batchelder, Lopez, Boger
Mark & Tracy Photography / Hillbarn Theatre
Jim Ambler as Bert, Caitlin McGinty as Mary Poppins, Darlene Batchelder as Queen Victoria, Ron Lopez Jr. as policeman, and Noah Boger as Neleus, from left, in "Mary Poppins," playing November 25 through December 18, 2016, at Hillbarn Theatre in Foster City.



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