TLP's 'Mary Poppins' "a musical not to miss"

Erica Stephan as Mary Poppins and Grant Alexander Brown as Bert perform a scene from TLP’s “Mary Poppins” which continues through Sunday, June 11.

Mary Poppins herself would agree the only word that can truly describe the first production of the 2017 season at Timber Lake Theater is “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”

TLP Artistic Director James Beaudry and Executive Director Dan Danielowski opened Disney and Cameron Mackintosh's “Mary Poppins” on Thursday, June 1, to a delighted audience.

Rather than a straight copy of the 1964 Disney film, this musical combines aspects of both the movie and the eight-book series by P.L. Travers. Set in 1910 London, the musical takes a deeper look at the difficulties of family life and the roles that fathers, mothers and children must play, while still retaining the mirth and joy of the movie.

As the titular Mary Poppins, guest performer Erica Stephan is “practically perfect in every way.” The actress portrays the magical nanny in a performance that is firm, but kind; wise, but whimsical. Stephan truly soars above the clouds in this role.

Almost stealing the show from Mary Poppins herself is the musical's “everyman” and chimney sweep Bert, phenomenally portrayed by resident performer Grant Alexander Brown. Brown exudes charm, wisdom and laughter as this jack of all trades, serving as narrator for most of musical. With his Chim Chim Che-ree's and his crooked smile, he brightens the performance.

Resident performers Ken Singleton and Kiersten Frumkin wonderfully depict George and Winifred Banks as they both struggle with “being” Mr. and Mrs. Banks. Singleton's solos focus on his attempt to support his family and run his life through “Precision and Order.” Frumkin portrays her character's struggle in balancing being a good wife, mother and member of the community. The two performances shine separately and together.

Lily Leding, of Clinton, Iowa, and Gabriel Pauley, of Milledgeville, are precocious, mischievous and endearing as Mary Poppins' charges, Jane and Michael Banks. The young actors' enthusiasm bleeds into their performance, delighting the audience.

The production is rounded out by a spectacular cast, including: Samantha Bonzi, Hope Elizabeth Schafer, Kieran McCabe, Enrique Miguel, Areo Keller, Sam Columbus, Nick Drake, Christopher Kelley, Levi Skoog, Molly Hernandez, Marcus Martin, Charles Mayhew Miller, Elya Faye Bottiger, Nissi Shalome Smith, Sawyer Smith and Emilie Kouatchou.

The TLP orchestra brings the magical soundtrack of “Mary Poppins” to life. Musicians include: conductor Andrew Milliken on the keyboards; Denise Deter and Emily Nunemaker on reeds/woodwinds; Cameron Rockwell on cello; Ben Logan on trumpet; Joe Titus on trombone; Kasey Steil on bass; Grace Shelly on drums; Mark Miller and Cindy Blanc on percussion/key 2.

While fans of the movie will be delighted to hear old favorites like “Spoonful of Sugar,” “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” “Feed the Birds,” “Jolly Holiday” and more, the performance offers many other songs which make the show memorable. “Cherry Tree Lane” and its reprise highlights the troubles for the Banks family. “Brimstone and Treacle” is sinister and fun.” Led by Mary Poppins and utilizing the full company, “Anything Can Happen” is a rousing and uplifting song.

With scenes stepping directly out of a storybook, “Mary Poppins” is a visual splendor. The play was directed (and with additional choreography) by Zachary L. Gray. Scenic designer Matthew D. Hamel and his crew bring a London park, a downstairs sitting room, a bank, a nursery and city rooftops to life with creative and beautiful set pieces.

Period costumes designed by Emma O'Dell and provided by All Dressed up Costumes in Batavia, transported the audience to 1910 London. Choreography by Sawyer Smith breathed life into each scene, making some of them truly unforgettable.

The performance also would not have been possible without the hard work of lighting designer Riley Wood, sound designer Colin Marshall, properties designer Calan Welder, production stage manager Mary-Catherine Mikalayunas, Flying by Troy and the crews.

TLP's “Mary Poppins” will leave a person feeling lighter and with a sense of wonder. It is not a musical to miss.

“Mary Poppins” is showing at the playhouse in rural Mount Carroll through Sunday, June 11. Tickets are available online at timberlakeplayhouse.org or by calling the box office at 815-244-2048. The box office is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.