“Mary Poppins” flies high

Kate Hall is Mary Poppins and Zach Smith plays chimney sweep Bert while Cassandra Palmer has the role of Mrs. Corry in The Grand’s production of “Mary Poppins” running through Nov. 1 at The Grand. PHOTO BY STEVE FULLER

Kate Hall is Mary Poppins and Zach Smith plays chimney sweep Bert while Cassandra Palmer has the role of Mrs. Corry in The Grand’s production of “Mary Poppins” running through Nov. 1 at The Grand.

The Grand Auditorium in Ellsworth opened its fall musical production of “Mary Poppins” last weekend, and it is a real crowd pleaser.

No wonder. Not only did Kate Hall, who plays the title role, have the sort of terrific trilling soprano that would make Julie Andrews proud, she brought just the right combination of effervescence and rectitude to the part as she meted out her spoonfuls of sugar and sage advice. And, oh yes, she can fly!

Sometimes when an amateur show has such a strong lead, the other cast members pale in comparison. But the entire Poppins crew holds its own, especially the two Banks children, who are as scrumptious as afternoon tea and cakes.

Emma Campbell as Jane Banks is one to watch. Only 11 years old, she brought a near-professional polish to her part, singing tunefully and speaking her lines with great conviction and force. It gives one hope that at least some of the next generation of actors are learning how to project without relying entirely on wireless microphones.

Ditto for young master Drew Pierson, who got almost all the funny lines. He delivered every one of them to a delighted audience with perfect timing and an irresistibly mischievous smile.

This adorable duo also maintained the best British accents throughout the show, and when they sang their “The Perfect Nanny” request, they had us all wanting to sign up for the job.

As their father, Will Stephenson was well cast as the uptight John Banks, who hides his sweet nature behind bluster and pomposity. As his long suffering but loving wife, Winifred, Mary Elms was perhaps the most emotionally convincing character in the entire cast. We really believed her when she sang about how conflicted she was over the difficult task of “Being Mrs. Banks” in a lovely tremulous voice.

Another great casting coup was getting lanky lobsterman Zach Smith to play Mary’s jack-of-all-trades pal Bert. He has a pleasing voice and equally pleasing stage presence.

In smaller roles, Bonnie Hardy and Doug VanGorder were great fun as the Banks’ cook and butler. Irv Hodgkin was a perfect Admiral Boom. Laurie Schreiber was perfectly hysterical as the shrill spinster Miss Lark. Neil E. Graham brought wonderful cartoonish exuberance to several roles.

Whitney Pierson also was engaging in a couple of roles, and Aidan Pasha made a convincing bloviating bank manager. Cassie Palmer was a swell Mrs. Corrie, a character written for the play version. Chris Dougherty of Tremont helped provide one of the most poignant moments in the show as the bird lady singing “Feed the Birds.” Although the heavily made up Prescilla Harper looked more like a caricature than a tyrannically strict old nanny, she delivered her song “Brimstone and Treacle” with all the delicious malice of a true Disney villain.

While the play is a good three hours long, stage director Michael Weinstein kept the action moving. Not a peep was heard from a restive child in the audience.

Under the direction of Dana Ross, the chorus, while small and with a dearth of men – the Grand needs to do some serious recruiting for their next production – did a splendid job with its two big numbers “Supercalifra …” well you know, and most especially “Chim Chim Cher-ee” with some marvelously percussive dancing choreographed by David Lamon. The excellent pit orchestra managed to back them all up tunefully but needs to bring the volume down a bit when the actors are speaking.

This was only the second night of performances, and there were a few lighting and special effects glitches. But Peter Miller pulled off the thrilling effect of an airborne Poppins without a hitch.

Ken Stack’s main set of brick façades, bridge and London skyline is handsome and ingeniously transforms into the other scenes. But some of these other scenes appear to be unfinished and underdressed. Several props look distinctly 20th century. Surely they could find a more convincing puppy for Miss Lark and a more expensive-looking vase for a Bank’s family heirloom. Mr. Banks could use a better briefcase or at least have something in it! Details matter.

Many of the costumes, Mary’s scarlet coat, and the children’s outfits for instance, were excellent, but some lacked the right period look. And, something must be done to improve the statue that comes to life, which looked more like a chick embryo in a toga than a Greek goddess.

Of course, none of this mattered to the audience on Saturday night, which was filled with enthralled kids and delighted grownups. All stood, cheered and clapped loudly, as will you, at the curtain call.

There are two more weekends of Mary Poppins performances: Oct. 23, 24 and 30 at 7:30 p.m. and Oct. 25, 31 and Nov. 1 at 2 p.m.

For ticket information and reservations, call 667-9500.

Nan Lincoln

Nan Lincoln

The former arts editor at the Bar Harbor Times writes reviews and feature stories for The Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander.

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