Director/choreographer Russell Garrett’s charming MARY POPPINS (@ Wheelock Family Theatre through Feb. 28th) has all the elements of the beloved film plus the most inventive choreography I’ve seen this season. Garrett’s deliciously original, wildly gestural dance vocabulary for the Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious showstopper is one of the reasons to see Wheelock’s production of the musical.
The other reasons are the strong, crisp performances: Lisa Yuen is a fierce, take charge Mary; Andrew Giordano as father has a joyous reclamation reminiscent of Dickens’ most famous epiphany; Shana Dirik tears up the stage as the “holy terror” of nannies; Dan Reardon as the chimney sweep leads the company in a roof raising tap extravaganza in Act II. But this MARY POPPINS has something more to offer than the fanciful tale of an enchanted nanny.
Gamalia Pharms (as the bird woman) is at the very heart of the story: What do we want for our children, if not to learn compassion, for their fellow human beings… and for all sentient creatures. It’s no accident that birds figure so importantly in the narrative. Mary teaches the children to look beyond themselves.
Mary frees the nasty nanny’s caged lark from its prison and when she sees a woman selling crumbs for the birds, she encourages the children to “look beyond what [they] see” and join her in an act of selflessness. Pharms delivers a beatific performance and her lovely, simple Feed the Birds has double resonance when father realizes he has been sleep walking through life. When he encounters and engages Pharms with her birds, we know he has reclaimed his humanity.
The Wheelock production has it all: gentle performances like Laura D. DeGiacomo as mother, sparkling turns from Cameron Levesque and Eowyn Young as the children and a company who make the dancing pop.