Friday, May 17, 2019

"Mary Poppins" at Lakeshore Players Theatre

Do you know who your local community theater is? There are so many great community theaters in the #TCTheater area that it's impossible to keep track of them all. But I encourage everyone to find one in your area and support them. There are so many people working so hard for little reward other than seeing your smiling face in the audience. My local community theater is Lakeshore Players Theatre* in White Bear Lake, which opened a gorgeous new building about a year ago. The final production in their first full season in their new space is Mary Poppins, a show that celebrates imagination, determination, play, and family. I'll admit that the biggest draw to see this show was seeing one of my #TCTheater favorites Quinn Shadko as Mary Poppins, but the whole show is just darling. If you're in the Northeast metro be sure to visit them in the Hanifl Performing Arts Center, or check out what theater is happening in your neighborhood.

Everyone knows the story of the stern but fair nanny who appears out of the sky to care for Jane and Michael Banks. She teaches the children manners, feeds them their medicine (with a spoonful of sugar), and brings some much needed play into their lives. A walk through the park turns into a technicolor dream, with Bert the chimney sweep adding to the fun. They visit a "talking shop" and learn about the most splendid word, and have an adventure on the rooftops of London with the chimney sweeps. In the play Mary leaves and then comes back again, which allows for the appearance of Mr. Banks' terrible and terrifying nanny Miss Andrew, which makes everyone appreciate Mary more. Mr. Banks has work troubles, and Mrs. Banks feels neglected. Mary not only helps the children, but also helps to turn Mr. Banks from an insufferable embodiment of the patriarchy into a caring father and husband (there are a few people in today's world that I wish Mary Poppins would pay a visit to and whip into shape). And when the family is repaired and she is no longer needed, Mary Poppins flies away again, to return when and where she's needed.**

Highlights of this production include:
Quinn Shadko as Mary (photo courtesy of LPT)
  • It's a cliche to say it, but Quinn Shadko is, indeed, practically perfect in every way. She's delightful and funny, prim and proper yet full of spirit. Just what you need to restore humanity in a family (or the world).
  • Austin Lewis is a charmer as Bert - sidewalk chalk artist, chimney sweep, and narrator of the show. His chim-chim-cheree scene transitions help the story flow and the momentum continue.
  • Jane and Michael Banks are just the cutest. Valerie Wick has more professional #TCTheater credits on her bio that most of the actors on stage, and the experience shows. It's just the second appearance at Lakeshore for Brennan Royal, and he's completely adorable. Both of them are natural and totally in the story.
  • Under director Natalie Novacek (also one of my #TCTheater favorites) the entire cast is wonderful, with lots of doubling and tripling of roles. Whether by design or necessity of casting, most of the ensemble members are women (playing bank employees, chimney sweeps, etc.), which is a fun (and not distracting) gender-bending twist. Highlights include Heather Christianson and Michael Dufault as Mrs. and Mr. Banks, A. Emily Heaney with a heavy Scots accent as housekeeper Mrs. Brill, and Corey de Danann blustering through the Banks home as the "holy terror" Miss Andrews.
  • The last musical I saw at LPT had an orchestra that was disappointingly only a few keyboards, so this band geek was thrilled to see the pit filled with horns and reeds. Music Director Ian Zahren leads the nine-person orchestra through this score which includes so many favorites from the movie.
  • I always get excited when I hear actors walk out on stage with tap shoes, because I know a big number is coming! The "Step in Time" tap number doesn't disappoint as the tappers fill the stage (choreographed by Dorian Brooke Meifert).
  • The many locations of the story (the Banks home, the bank, the park, the world of imagination) are represented in a charmingly low-tech way. But don't think that because this is community theater there isn't flying. There is flying, and it's always a thrill! And the many costumes are colorful and period appropriate and fantastical. (Scenic design by Maggie Mae Sulentic, costume design by Judy Kastelle.)
Head to Lakeshore Players Theatre just north of downtown White Bear Lake to see this charming show this weekend.

the cast of Mary Poppins (photo courtesy of LPT)

*Technically my closest local community theater is Mounds View Community Theatre, which does one show a year. This summer Joe Chvala is directing Man of La Mancha at a location a mile and a half from my house. How lucky am I?!
**Plot summary borrowed from what I wrote about Artistry's production last year.