By the time the wind has blown the weather vein around, Glyndon Area Players will show you a practically perfect production of Disney’s Mary Poppins. Giving life to the message of love through the magic of performance, GAP has outdone themselves this year with their high-quality community theatre performance of Disney’s musical about a flying nanny with a kite-string of loveable chaos in her wake. Directed by the heart and soul of the Glyndon Area Players, Founder and Artistic Director Homero Bayarena, with Musical Direction by Sterling Gray, and Choreography by Cecelia, Lucy, and Maia DeBaugh, you’ll find this production soaring over the rooftops with jubilation and earnest glee.
Director Homero Bayarena, partnered with Set Designers Rose Mooney, and Technical Director Michael Parks, Scenic Artists Ava Ertel, Corinne Ertel, Lily Ertel, and Meredith Faid, have crafted the iconic Mary Poppins set in the epic and enormous fashion for which GAP is known. The massive spinning house at Cherry Tree Lane, and all of its respective components (nursery, kitchen, parlor) are indeed gargantuan and require a fair bit of manpower to turn about. This does lead to some extended scenic changes, but Pit Conductor Sterling Gray has that covered with looping interstitial music that keeps the audience from feeling like they’re trapped in the down-space but rather swept up in the mystic winds of Mary Poppins’ brilliant score. Scenic Artists Ava, Corinne, and Lily Ertel explore fantastical backdrops to create wonders from the rooftops of London all the way through the vivacious park scene featured in “Jolly Holiday.” The attention to detail in everything from the exterior bricking of the bank building front to all of the magical elements inside No. 17 Cherry Tree Lane’s enchanted kitchen is exquisite.
Though GAP manages to put its own unique spin upon Mary Poppins, they follow suit in a great many of the titular character’s costumes, compliments of Costume Designers Homero Bayarena, Kari O’Donnell, and Susan Zepp. Working alongside Hair & Makeup Designer Katelyn Nellies, and her team (Emma Fronheiser, Cristiana Nellies, Kelsey Pintzow, Olivia Rees, Tess Vaccarino) there is a brilliant balance of iconic looks and unique sartorial selections. The wild and wonderful costumes and wigs featured on Mrs. Corry (Lori True) and her daughters Annie (Lucy DeBaugh) and Fannie (Cece DeBaugh) are just one example. Bayarena O’Donnell, Zepp, Nellies and the wardrobe team work hard to maintain the unique individuality of a GAP production; this is best expressed and witnessed during the toy costumes that come to life for “Playing the Game” where you can see a clever box of Crayola Crayons (Hannah Greenberg) a suit of Royal Playing Cards (Holly Greenberg, Elaine Casey, Cristiana Nellies, Kendall Hamilton), and a very gothic nod to the darker original side of Mary Poppins’ musical stage debut (circa the West End production which featured the deeply disturbing number “Temper, Temper”) in the Tim Burtonesque Rag Doll outfit worn by Allie Wallace.
Rather continue to leaf through lengthy lexicons to find all of the compassionate and enthusiastic synonyms one needs to accurately describe the extraordinary things that Bayarena and TeamGAP accomplishes to pull off stunts like sending Bert literally up and over the rooftops, allowing Mary Poppins to fly in with her kites, and the gorgeous illusion of those kites’ flying high out over the house, it must simply be said that it is truly a team effort filled with heart, spirit, soul, a great belief in love, filled with magic, and of course a spoonful of sugar, that gets this high-quality production up on its feet. There are dozens of tiny moments of magical perfection that will delight audiences of all ages all throughout the performance; everything from Bayarena’s magnificent casting right down to the talented performers in even the smallest of roles. Keep your eyes on the adorably magnificent Paul Casey, a young performer who appears throughout the production as a Park Stroller and Kite Flyer; when he is flying his kite, it is easy to lose yourself in the wonderment and amazement of how realistic he looks, not a care in the world, fully engrossed in his kite as it soars above him. It’s endearing and impressive.
Other standout performances are liberally peppered throughout the ensemble; the barking Miss Lark (Colleen Esposito) and her insatiably chatty dog Willoughby come immediately to mind, particularly when crossing cheeky smiles with Admiral Boom (Joel Signor) and The Park Keeper (Raph Paredes) during her strolling constitutionals. Paredes delights the audience with his humorous hijinks, particularly as his stern authoritative exterior drifts away on the glee and excitement of potentially getting to fly a kite; why he practically leaps right up in the air with it! Mr. Northbrook (Henry Cyr) and Herr VonHussler (Kenny Alam) give Mr. Banks something to chew over and consider; both Cyr and Alam appear as cameo type characters (and of course reappear throughout the ensemble as various and sundry) but both make their momentary existences during “Precision and Order” quite memorable. Cyr is genial and earnest, putting forth a real working class British accent; Alam has a haughty, rude air about him and really lives up to his character’s namesake. Mary Poppins at GAP has so many of these performances delivered by gifted actors all throughout the show, but if we stand here talking shop all day…
Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper musical without some effervescent dancing. And the choreographic trio of Cecelia, Lucy, and Maia DeBaugh well know their way around a stage when it comes to producing quality dance routines that are suited for both the show and the company on the stage. “Jolly Holiday” plays to the company’s strengths, keeping a few core dancers in the foreground with Mary, Bert, and the children, allowing their glorious talents to radiate all through that number. Lead by Neleus (Joe Love) and the stone Ballerinas (Cece DeBaugh, Lucy DeBaugh, Julia Hamilton), the leaping of living statuary never looked so fine as it does in this rendering of “Jolly Holiday.” Love in particular is a spirited and talented dancer who repeatedly showcases his ability to turn perfect pirouettes over and over in rapid succession. The DeBaugh trio deserves praises all throughout the production for their careful choreography, but it isn’t until the second act that their true accomplishment explodes onto the stage in all of its grandeur.
The Chimney Sweeps may look a motley crew, smudged with tar and grime, but when you need a tap routine— holy wow! Do they step in time!! The level of clean, crisp tapping that these nearly three-dozen dancing chimney sweeps accomplish is astonishing. It’s beyond praises— dare I say it— the entire “Step in Time” routine is not only stupendous, not only terrific, why it’s— well…you know that word, don’t you? The one with 18 consonants and 16 vowels as well? You know, you put them in an order that is very hard to spell? Well, never you mind all that, spit spot and all, the point is that those tapping Chimney Sweeps (Kenny Alam, Sammi Brown Chiedu Chika, Jared Cohen, Andy Collins, Henry Cyr, Cece DeBaugh, Lucy DeBaugh, Deanna Dovel, Donna Feher-Hesen, Rachel French, Chris Fronheiser, Emma Fronheiser, Kyle Fronheiser, Sarah Fronheiser, Talya Goldstein, Julie Hamilton, Joe Love, Lori Maccia, JP Marcotte, Andrew Nellies, Megan O’Donnell, John Oravec, Gabby Paredes, Raph Paredes, Carole Skursky, Logan Snyder, Natalia Von Paris, Rori West, Sophie True, Emily Signor) are marvelous!
Not everyone can be as lucky as a chim-chim-cher-ee sweep, naturally. Some people have sweep up the ground floors. But leave that to Mrs. Brill (Sarah French) and her stoogie, Robertson Ay (Casey Gomes.) The pair are a comic goldmine when it comes to chewing scenery and faffing about in the background of various scenes and musical numbers. Gomes’ facial and bodily expressions bring a whole new level of hilarity to the Robertson Ay character, especially when he’s having silent outbursts, or having to wrangle and restrain the bombastically hot-tempered Mrs. Brill. French’s Brill has a muddled accent that gives her character an extra layer of working class grit and really makes Mrs. Brill’s constant cranky complaining rather comical. And while not a part of the Banks family or even really integrated into No.17 Cherry Tree Lane, The Bird Woman (Bethany Nusbaum), who is an integral part of everyone’s memories of the original film, has such a tragically haunted sound for her solo “Feed the Birds” that it would hardly seem fair to go on praising the company without mentioning her.
If a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, someone ought to get a sky’s full of the stuff to shove down nasty Miss Andrew’s (Samantha Ulick) throat. The potent, putrid, and polar opposite of the sprightly, albeit cheeky, Mary Poppins, Ulick makes your skin crawl with her portrayal of “The Holy Terror”, George Banks’ former nanny, Miss Andrew. With heinously severe makeup (nods of praise once again to the Hair & Makeup team!) to enhance her terror, Ulick shrieks and shrills all through her two scenes in the performance. Belting out those unholy tunes during “Brimstone and Treacle”, Ulick is certainly the stuff of Disney nightmares when it comes to playing this part!
The sovereign of Cherry Tree Lane, Mr. George Banks Esquire (Cameron Casey) cuts quite the imposing figure in this production and perhaps it is he who is partially responsible for the storm cloud brewing over his household! Casey, looking perpetually cross and rather unforgiving, is staunch in his delivery of lines. No one would confuse his character’s firmness with a liver complaint! Casey looks cross, sounds commanding, and rigorously convinces the audience that he’s rather earned his label of “poor daddy” because of just how misguided a man he truly is. With a crisp, demanding voice, “Precision and Order” as well as other numbers where Casey’s singing is featured, are numbers that echo with respect and authority. Playing the delicate and deeply sensitive foil to this patriarch, is Suzi Eldridge as Winifred Banks. Sweet, winsome, and deeply emotionally grounded in the turmoil of being Mrs. Banks, she is carefully composed on stage and presents lovely sounds all throughout her musical solos, particularly “Being Mrs. Banks.”
Two adorable children is not a qualifying characteristic up for debate in this production. Jane and Michael Banks (at this performance Emily Signor and Bailey Gomes) are absolutely adorable, albeit impudent, snotty, and at times downright childish; they are just what the nanny needed when she flew into town! Emily Signor hides her advanced youthful years well, delving into bratty behaviors and preciously presumptuous presentations of Jane to help belay the fact that her vocal maturity is pristinely beyond a girl of Jane’s years. (How else does one more politely say that Miss Signor’s voice rings true like a trained adult but she still manages to convince us that she could be a bratty snot circa age nine despite being a good deal taller than the average young girl Jane’s age?) Her voice is resplendent and blends delightfully with Bailey Gomes when they are singing “The Perfect Nanny”, as well as their solo segments of “Jolly Holiday”, “A Spoonful of Sugar”, and “Anything Can Happen.” Gomes has an uncanny knack for comedy and his comedic timing is spit-spot, as Mary might say! He fits the bill for the adorably obnoxious little cherub who might stick a toad in his nanny’s bed, just after trying to pinch her telescope! The pair really do create magic on the stage together and make for a delightful quartet when they team up with Mary Poppins and Bert, though watch them both as they initially size up Bert…and his untidy appearance; it’s hilarious.
Versatility knows no bound when it comes to the extraordinary performance given by Stephen Strosnider in the role of Bert. Fully animated in face, voice, and body, one could easily watch Strosnider do a one-man show called Swept: The Story of Bert, Jack of All Trades and never be disappointed. Looking as if he’s constantly about to leap up into the air and fly unassisted over the rooftops, there is indefatigable joy and pleasantries radiating from Strosnider throughout every moment of the performance. When he starts prancing about during “Jolly Holiday”, he absolutely earns Mary Poppins’ cheeky comments of “having enough brass for all of us” but does so in a way that feels totally natural. Not an ounce of artifice about him, says I! And just when you think you can’t fall more in love with all of his wild antics, infectious vivacity, and congenial nature, he starts singing and dancing all through “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and your own heart starts beating like a big brass band. Watch him trying to spell the word with Mary the first time through; it’s hysterical. Of course his shining moment comes during “Step in Time” where the feats accomplished in this number— literally belting from over the rooftops and flipping whilst maintaining his Chimney Sweep’s Cap atop his head— are too good for proper description. In a sense it is nothing like Dick Van Dyke and yet everything like the magical endearing charm that we all loved about Dick Van Dyke, who originated the role on the screen. Bert has true magic and he’s not stingy in the least when it comes to spreading it all around.
There is a special bond between Strosnider’s Bert and the queen of practically perfect herself, Mary Poppins (Katie Sheldon.) They could turn anyone’s gray and ordinary day upside down with just a spoonful of their talent and their honest, earnest, deeply true friendship. Katie Sheldon creates her own magnificent, marvelous, and truly wonderous rendering of Mary Poppins. There are subtly cheeky nods to Julie Andrews and yet the performance is solely her own. With a voice that graciously and gloriously sails through those soprano numbers like “Practically Perfect”, “Spoonful of Sugar” and “Anything Can Happen”, you are absolutely enchanted every time she sings. Carrying “Feed the Birds” to make it a gloriously shared duet, Sheldon has a deep emotional connection to each of her songs, even the fun and silly ones. But being Mary Poppins is more than just having a practically perfect voice, a spit-spot appearance, and a lively dancer’s ability (which Sheldon most definitely does; watch her during “Step in Time” because she steps right in time with every other Chimney Sweep!) Being Mary Poppins involves having the exacting balance of cheeky righteousness, tender compassion, and of course a spoonful of sugar. Katie Sheldon’s Mary Poppins is exactly that. Bert may have the magic to stop and start scenes, and narrate the story, but Sheldon’s Mary Poppins has the magic to stop and start the emotional gravity of this charming Disney fairytale; she delivers a practically perfect Mary Poppins that is unforgettable.
If you reach for the stars, all you get are the stars, but GAP’s found a brand new spin, they have reached for the heavens, and they got the stars thrown in! It’s truly something that defies description, this glorious production, and honestly, the only word for it— well?
Running Time: Approximately 3 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission
Mary Poppins plays through August 11, 2019 at the Glyndon Area Players in the Sacred Heart School Auditorium— 63 Sacred Heart Lane in Glyndon, MD. Tickets are available at the door or in advance online.