Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Mary Poppins Soars at the Palace

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the Curtains Up Productions are all local actors and actresses living out a hobby. The shows they put on at the historic Palace Theater in Lockport are very often some very professionally produced, directed, and entertaining musicals. This past weekend’s “Mary Poppins” was one of those great shows. Lucky for you, a second weekend of performances is on tap for Thursday through Sunday of this week.

Emily Prucha as Mary Poppins

I was fortunate enough to see “Mary Poppins” both Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. Saturday evening are our season tickets, with prime seating nearly dead center of the second row. For Sunday, we took the entire family to the matinee and sat in the balcony on the left side of the stage. Both shows were well done, with each being just a tiny bit different.

For those people who were expecting the musical to be a clone of the saccharine Disney movie of 1964, you found something unexpected. In the case of the musical, it has taken elements from the Disney movie as well as some of the grittier parts from the books by P.L. Travers. Mary Poppins for instance, is not as sweet as the portrayal by Julie Andrews.The addition of Miss Andrew from the original novel is an example of things from the novel that Disney felt was too dark.

Bert and Mary dance and sing in the park.
Robby Syruws, who we have seen previously as the ghost of Jacob Marley in “Scrooge” and as the Scarecrow in “Wizard of Oz,” hits the stage in the role of Bert, the Jack-of-all-Trades and Mary’s friend. Once again, his commanding stage presence and vocal acumen keeps the audience fixated. He channels Dick Van Dyke’s bloody awful Cockney accent in a way that is both endearing and humorous. He plays the part of Bert so very well.

Playing the beautiful, prim, and proper Mary Poppins is the very talented Emily Prucha. Emily brings a vitality to the role that demands that the audience follow her every move. Her singing shines on old favorites like “Spoonful of Sugar” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” as well as on new songs, “Practically Perfect” and “Anything Can Happen.”
Robby Syruws as Bert serenades from the rooftop.
Sadie Igoe was a perfect choice to play Jane Banks. Her facial expressions in response to her costars were completely in line with the role, and probably more her own reaction as an actress rather than something that was directed to her. While I’m sure that Chris Parada gave her direction on how to react to certain situations, but there seemed to be quite a bit of Sadie in those reactions. She was wonderful. During Sunday’s performance, Sadie had to pick up some of the lines of Michael Banks when that actor was forced to leave the stage due to illness. She more than ably covered the unexpected change to the dialogue.

Jane and Michael are ready for a "spoonful of sugar
with Mary Poppins.
Speaking of Michael Banks, Isaac Fesmire was just as well suited to the role he was given. Again, some of the facial expressions were priceless. There were moments that Isaac mimicked some of the great facial tics of Matthew Garber. Unfortunately for Isaac, he was not feeling well during the Sunday performance. While the rest of the cast were extremely capable at picking up and covering his absence, we missed his personality on stage. Even though he is still very young, like Sadie Igoe, will be a force upon the Palace stage for as long as he feels the desire to do so.

Mary measures the children, while she is "practically perfect."
Meanwhile, the tandem of Kyle Beiter and Angela Szafran as Mr. and Mrs. Banks worked wonderfully. With Beiter playing a self-absorbed banker, and Szafran playing his eager for attention wife, this team of two provided much of the back story that the main story of the children and Poppins rested upon. Szafran’s singing alone is worth the price of admission. Her voice rises above the music of the pit and grabs ahold of your attention, not letting go until the echoes of her last syllable fade into the corners of the theater.

Much of the comedy in the show comes from the duo of Jake Hayes and Meghan Curr. As always, Jake’s physical comedy and timing make his laughs that much greater. Meghan plays straightman (or rather straightwoman) to Hayes and his antics. They work well together and off each other. There seems to be a natural comedic connection between the two.

The highlight of the entire show was the choreography. Dyan Mulvey took the dancing during this musical to new heights. The dance numbers were crisp. Even Isaac Fesmire, who probably didn’t have a lot of dance background, fit in wonderfully with the dance numbers. Everyone on stage brought their A-Game to the dancing.

Emily Prucha and Robby Syruws "step in time" with the sweeps
Easily the best dance routine of the evening came late in the show during the song, “Step in Time.” For both performances that I saw, people stood to applaud at the conclusion of this number. Each dancer of the routine were on fire. The mid-air flips during this dane excited everyone. I heard one daughter on Sunday mutter “wow” during that particular sequence. Keep in mind they’re singing at the same time. It truly is a wonderful part of the show.

The Banks family: L to R: Angela Szafran, Sadie Igoe,
Isaa Fesmire, Kyle Beiter
Executive Director, Christopher Parada was the director for “Mary Poppins.” He put together a fantastic show that people of all ages will enjoy. If you’ve seen the movie, or read the books, this musical has a little something for everyone. Favorite songs from yesteryear will echo in your head even after leaving the Palace. You might find yourself humming or singing along to one of those tunes when you least expect it.
There is still time for those of you who haven’t seen “Mary Poppins” yet at the Historic Palace Theater in downtown Lockport. There are performances in the evenings of Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, with a final matinee on Sunday. Trust me, please take the time to see these amazing local actors and actresses give new life to a grand, old, childhood favorite. If you miss your chance, you only have yourself to blame.

I’d like to thank Chris Parada for allowing me to post his photos of the performance to this column. I'd also like to give a shout out to a certain oboe player who was instrumental in catching Michael's bird seed bag when he finished feeding the birds. It truly is a great effort by all involved.

Craig Bacon is still singing “Step in Time” two and three days after seeing the show. He’s tried, but his umbrella still doesn’t fly.