Mary Poppins: A practically perfect production

Photo by Greg EichelbergerPhoto by Greg EichelbergerPhoto by Greg EichelbergerPhoto by Greg EichelbergerPhoto by Greg EichelbergerPhoto by Greg EichelbergerPhoto by Greg EichelbergerPhoto by Greg EichelbergerPhoto by Greg EichelbergerPhoto by Greg EichelbergerPhoto by Greg EichelbergerPhoto by Greg EichelbergerPhoto by Greg EichelbergerPhoto by Greg EichelbergerPhoto by Greg Eichelberger
By: 
Greg Eichelberger
Staff Writer

Anyone who has read the books by P.L. Travers or saw the 1964 Academy Award-winning film by Walt Disney or viewed any other version of the famous “Mary Poppins’ saga knows the music, dancing and comedic moments, but there is also an emotional component.
This is especially true of the newest Blackfoot Community Players’ version, directed by stage legend Sharon Hoge (“The King and I,” “Cinderella”).
The tale, which concerns the almost mystical magical nanny, Mary Poppins (Michelle Bowen, despite being the titular character is nevertheless 11th billed on the show’s program) and her interaction with the two Banks’ children, Michael (Kimball Williams) and Jane (Breezy Bowen) in Great Britain in the early 1900s.
Both stern and lenient, she runs into trouble with the distracted, unforgiving father, George (Dane Christiansen, the monarch in “The King and I”) and his brow-beaten wife, Winifred (Carissa Christiansen, yes, they are actually married in real life), as well as other more conservative English men and women.
Mary has a few allies, however, in addition to her supernatural powers, including an equally ambiguous chimney sweep, Bert (Neil Walker) and the Banks’ domestic servants who have seen the often rude and impudent kids drive away dozens of governesses in the past.
The moppets try to do the same to Mary, but her charm and special powers convince them otherwise — eventually (also see the plot of “The Sound Of Music”).
The acting is fine, the singing is wonderful (Oscar-winning tunes by the Sherman brothers), the costumes are literally scrumptious and the sets are absolutely luxuriant in this version.
Hoge and her talented set design and artistic staff transports us to a local park (“Jolly Holiday”), a “Conversation Store” (“Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”), a large meadow (“Let’s Fly a Kite”), a bank (“The Life I Lead”), the children’s bedroom (“A Spoonful Of Sugar,” still the most recognized tune of the musical), a deserted cathedral (the heart-tugging “Feed the Birds”)
Bowen is almost perfect in the lead, while both Christiansens give wonderful accounts as the stressed, put-upon parents. Breezy and Kimball do fine jobs as the mischievous tykes and Tineal Williams (“The King and I”), as the Bird Woman, has a most rich and lovely voice during the tear-jerking “Feed the Birds.”
However, it’s Walker who really surprises this scribbler. Not only does he provide the every man role for the audience, but dances up a storm with other chimney sweep and sings (he warbles “Chim-Chim-Cheree” throughout the production). He even holds his Cockney accent better than Dick Van Dyke. It’s a terrific performance.
Enjoy the tunes, but be prepared for a few tears and lumps in the throat with the tale of the iceberg papa being melted to spend time with his youngsters at the expense of his gruff boss (Jonathan Braack). It’s a delightful revelation.
Long resistant to film adaptations of her Mary Poppins books, P.L. Travers finally succumbed to the entreaties of Walt Disney, and the result is often considered the finest of Disney’s personally supervised films.
This story is told quite well in the 2013 film, “Saving Mr. Banks” and once you have seen that movie, one has a better appreciation of the original motion picture.
Grade: A