Kelly Critic Review: 'Mary Poppins,' Northgate High School
April 18, 2015 7:39 AM
The cast of "Mary Poppins," the 2015 spring musical at Northgate High School.
By Morgan Seiff / Hampton High School
The Kelly Critics is a joint program of the Post-Gazette and Pittsburgh CLO's Gene Kelly Awards for Excellence in High School Musicals, in which students at Kelly schools review musicals at other Kelly schools. Reviews are edited by senior theater critic Christopher Rawson.
There’s nothing like a good ol’ yank on the heart-strings as a reminder to appreciate the people closest to you. And that yank is exactly what Northgate High School’s “Mary Poppins” delivers -- hard, and right where you feel it. In this sentimental joyride of warm-and-fuzzy proportions, Mary, Bert, and the rest of the crew re-tell a nostalgic tale of love, virtue, and family that, by the last reprise, will have you leaning on your mother’s shoulder.
Despite its whimsical reputation, the show has a controversial history. Creator P. L. Travers, author of the original Mary Poppins book series, vehemently disapproved of Mary’s portrayal in Disney’s 1964 movie adaptation, and later, the musical. However, Northgate looks past the past and focuses on what underlies all subsequent variations of Poppins -- the value of family. It was a great pleasure to experience Northgate’s version of this well-loved story.
The curtains open to Bert’s (Paul Boyce’s) charming Cockney accent, introducing the audience to the troubled household on Cherry Tree Lane: George Banks (D.J. Powers) consumes himself with his job at the bank at the expense of isolating himself from his loved ones, and Winifred Banks (Ashleigh Mortimer) struggles to find fulfillment in her “role” as a wife and mother. Subsequently, their two children, Jane (Felicity Dicken) and Michael (Braden Largent), voice their family frustrations through behavior so appalling it sends every nanny packing.
Cue Mary Poppins. Played by pretty and proper Laken Burns, she is blown by the wind to Cherry Tree Lane with one purpose -- to teach the Banks family to love each other again.
As soon as the orchestra played its first notes, the audience was hooked the whole way through. With familiar tunes such as “Step in Time” and “A Spoonful of Sugar,” orchestra director Jessica Haberman conducted not only the pace of the musicians, but the pace of our hearts.
At the start, the shining stars of the show were Jane and Michael, portrayed by actual elementary schoolers with a cute confidence that charmed the audience right off the bat. But as the night went on, it was clear that the strength of the performance was in its ensemble numbers. Encouraged by the chorus and empowered by the sets and costumes, the actors sparked an infectious energy that had the crowd clapping to the beat.
For instance, in “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” the customers mimed the letters in a lively, synchronized number, thrilled at the possibilities opened up by Mary’s creativity -- and so was the audience, because we were all singing along. “Let’s Go Fly A Kite” was a steady, stirring scene comprised of both high school performers and their elementary school counterparts, holding tight to the strings of a theater full of prop kites that only added to the magic. “Step in Time” also held some true magic; when Bert calls upon his fellow sweeps to join him in song on the rooftops, the actors pranced passionately through the audience with an enchanting sunset backdrop behind them, and I swear I felt the night air in that toasty auditorium. The ensembles were undoubtedly the most memorable parts of “Mary Poppins.” The entire cast gave each other strength, like a family would.
What struck me the most about Northgate was the wonderful sense of community. I could feel the excitement and love from families in the audience, and it was infectious. Maybe it made George’s proclamation of newfound loyalty to his family that much more satisfying as he busted out “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!” to his bosses. Perhaps it made me smile that much harder when the Banks family finally indulged in a much-needed embrace. And maybe it made Mary’s final departure that much more bittersweet, knowing that, although she had left Cherry Tree Lane for good, she truly did fulfill her purpose.
In our high tech era of rapid change and instant gratification, we often forget to step back and treasure what we have. Northgate’s “Mary Poppins” gives us the much-needed reminder that nothing is more valuable than our loved ones.
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