Penobscot Theatre Company’s production of “Mary Poppins, the Broadway Musical” is a spectacular extravaganza worthy of the adjective “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”
It is the most demanding musical presented at the Bangor Opera House since the professional theater company launched “Beauty and the Beast” as its holiday show in 2017. “Mary Poppins” tells the story of how the Banks family is changed for the better by their time with the unconventional nanny and her friend Bert.
Saturday’s opening night performance was a sold-out success with show-stopping numbers that had the audience clapping and singing along. The musical version of the 1964 Disney film “Mary Poppins” is a triumphant conclusion to Artistic Director Jonathan Berry’s first, mostly uneven season, at the theater. The show, which includes songs from the film and some new numbers, opened on Broadway in November 2006 and closed in March 2013.
Director Scott Weinstein of New York City understands pageantry and uses every inch of the Opera House stage with eye-popping visuals and beguiling performances to dazzle the audience. His cast, made up of local talent and professionals from out of state, bring Edwardian London to life in musical productions large, “Step in Time” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” and intimate, “Feed the Birds” and “Being Mrs. Banks.”
One of the things that makes the show so stunning visually is the projections designed by Mike Tutaj, a projection and sound designer who teaches at DePaul University in Chicago. His projections include starlit skies, St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Banks’ home, and cover the entire set. But it is the projections of the streets and roofs of London where the chimney sweeps gather that are as thrillingly marvelous, as are the heart-stopping flying techniques by St. Louis-based On the Fly Productions.
Stephanie Bacastow of New York City is delightfully perfect as the unconventional nanny. She not only looks like she stepped out of the books by P.L. Travers but her stunningly clear soprano is reminiscent of Julie Andrews’ voice, who portrayed Mary Poppins in the film, and won an Oscar for Best Actress in 1965.
Bacastow beautifully balances the nanny’s playful side along with a spoonful of sternness. Her scenes with local star Dominick Varney as Bert are wistfully wonderful, especially their tap dancing in “Chim Chim Cher-ee.” The actress sets the bar high for the rest of the cast but everyone on stage gives equally fine performances.
Varney’s return to the Opera House stage last year for “Peter and the Starcatcher” was embraced by Bangor-area theatergoers. Over and over again, Varney has proven his versatility in drama, comedy and off-beat musicals like “Fun Home” but he is most at home in big Broadway musicals like “Beauty and the Beast,” in which he played the Candelabra, or performing his drag show.
As Bert, Varney’s spirited and exuberant performance, especially when he’s up in the air, lifts the production up almost into the stars. The actor clearly enjoys the role and could have upstaged his costars but instead eagerly becomes part of the tight ensemble created by the large cast.
The troubled Banks family saved by the flying nanny are convincingly portrayed by local actors Ben Layman (George Banks), Christie L. Robinson (Winifred Banks), Stella Burns (Jane Banks) and Derrick Johnson (Michael Banks). Their transformation from a dysfunctional, argumentative family to a loving, caring one is touchingly and realistically brought to life.
Other cast standouts include Janelle A. Robinson, who is not related to the cast member with the same last name, Caron Buinis, Noam Osher and Angela Bonacasa. The ensemble is terrific too, especially in the big production numbers — “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and “Step in Time.” Choreographer Danielle Jackman’s staging of those numbers, especially the complicated dance moves in the song stuck with one of the longest monikers in musical theater history, sets a new, high standard for dance numbers at the Opera House.
Set designer Jeffrey D. Kmiec, costume designer Jimmy Johansmeyer, lighting designer Jesse Klug and sound designer Ben David Ricmond seamlessly transport the audience to the streets of London and inside the Banks’ home on Cherry Tree Lane. The band, led by Phil Burns, perform from the Opera House balcony with panache and flair.
Any doubts musical theater-lovers in Greater Bangor had about the new artistic director’s ability to pull off a show this extravagant should be dispelled by this high-quality production that is visually captivating and heart warming to its core. “Mary Poppins” is truly a triumph as the company prepares to launch its 50th season.
“Mary Poppins, the Broadway Musical” will be performed at the Bangor Opera House, 131 Main St., through July 16. For ticket information, call 942-3333 or visit penobscottheatre.org.