Center Stage: "Mary Poppins" at Olney Theatre Center is 'practically perfect'

Mary PoppinsPatricia Hurley stars as the iconic magical nanny in "Mary Poppins," playing at the Olney Theatre Center through Jan. 1. COURTESY PHOTO  

OLNEY – At the Olney Theatre Center, a practically perfect production of “Mary Poppins” is running throughout the holiday season.

“Mary Poppins,” the heartwarming story about a magic nanny who appears out of nowhere to raise two troublesome children, is quite possibly the best ‘feel-good’ play of the year at the Olney Theatre Center.

The colorful and vibrant sets and the excellent acting, complete with quaint English accents, makes this play feel truly like a slice of Disney has been put on stage.

Patricia Hurley as Mary Poppins looks and acts every bit her character, doling out sage and witty advice almost every other line as the clever nanny.

Hurley, in addition to the rest of the cast, is a composed and excellent singer who also dances her way through numbers along with Rhett Guter as Bert the chimney sweep.

Both actors, who are as believable in their roles as their famous predecessors Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, are complimented wonderfully by Audrey Kilgore and Henry Mason, who play the rebellious children Jane and Michael Banks. 

Their escapades in old London are utterly entrancing as they traverse a multitude of detailed sets by Daniel Ettinger, which seamlessly move out of the background for every scene change.

In addition, each of these sets, in true Poppins tradition, have a number of illusions and magic tricks for both young and old to delight in, which are too much fun to spoil here.

In fact, the entire play contains a multitude of entertainment genres in itself, including optical illusions, ballet, tap dancing, flying and singing. 

All of these performances, accompanied by the music of the orchestra led by Timothy Splain, are utterly entrancing to watch.

Meanwhile, the background story of the children's father George Banks is both comically and endearingly played out by Karl Kippola as George, with Eileen Ward portraying mother Winifred Banks.

But easily the best and most important aspect of the play are the catchy music numbers, which many know and love as “Practically Perfect”, “A Spoonful of Sugar”, “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”, and “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” which are beautifully sung by all the members of the cast, particularly by Patricia Hurley.

The multiple reprisals of each song is an ingenious storytelling device that reemphasizes and echoes past ideas from prior scenes in the play, bringing a new set of meanings for each reprisal.

For example, “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” is sung originally when Michael wants to fly a battered old kite that he finds with Poppins, Bert, and his sister during a walk in the park.

George Banks is initially a strict disciplinarian who makes no time to play with his children but his heart is softened by his children through the work of Poppins. The reprisal of “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” by George as he flies a kite with his family signifies his reconnection with his childhood and renewed love of his family.

This play, although a delightful fantasy, is not just a distraction. In it, Poppins offers practical and worldly advice for living, a model not only to the children but to Mr. Banks, other adults in the play, and the audience watching. 

Her quips, such as “if you’re not going to be good, you might as well be sorry,” and “anything is possible if you get out of your own way,” are just a few of her bons mots  that turn problems inside out and upside down.

These maxims in a story of a down-to-earth and magical nanny who sets everything right in the end serve as a pick-me-up for anyone going through a funk in their lives or are just feeling less than “practically perfect.”

“Mary Poppins”, directed by Jason King Jones, is playing at the Olney Theatre Center through Jan. 1. Address: 2001 Olney Sandy Spring Road, Olney, MD 20832. Tickets: $70-85 (check for details.)

Runtime: 3 hours. Phone: (301) 924-3400.



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