The Lower Ossington Theatre's production of Disney's Mary Poppins is based mainly on the film, which was packed with colourful animation, more than a spoonful of sugar, and tuneful catchy songs. That is the only problem with the LOT's production: it is almost impossible to keep from making comparisons to the film and/or the special effects heavy Broadway musical. Fortunately director Alan Kinsella and set designer Michael Galloro, take advantage of the intimacy of LOT's mainstage. By substituting sleight-of-hand close-up magic tricks for splashy effects and conjuring numerous trompe de l'oeils, by the time the first big number "Jolly Holiday" grabs hold, comparisons are forgotten.This Mary Poppins is casting a spell on its own terms.
Not all of the effects work but the set is spectacular, the costumes are lavish, and the cast is, except for a tendency to mug, possessed of an explosive energy and some very fine voices. Michelle Nash (Hairspray, The Sound of Music, [title of show], Shrek the Musical) is an imperious Mary Poppins. She confidently and coldly dismisses Bert, the besotted and limber-limbed Bryden Rutherford, with a wave of her hand and singing a directive.
Nash then places subtle cracks in the brittle repressed exterior, teases at them, and by the time of her big wordless exit, she has earned the tears in the audience's eyes. There is glee in her eyes when she terrorizes the children in a Poltergeist-esque scene where their toys are brought to life, but she positively glows when the lesson is learned. She catches the contradictory, it is probably an impossible role, sado-masochistic Poppins' style and, by not playing it endearing, makes it all the more heartwarming.
A lot of the heavy lifting falls to the children and the night we attended Clare Lowe and Aviv Cohen managed to circumvent being the bane of WC Fields. Cohen in particular seemed to be sincerely having a great time while neither of them missed a dance move, a note, or an emotional beat. Allison Wither is a warm and rich-voiced Mrs Banks, Adeen Ashton reincarnates Margaret Hamilton as a vaudevillian villain Miss Andrew, and the able cast fills the stage with what seems like an ensemble of hundreds.
Choreographer Greg Carruthers turns "Step in Time" into a rousing tap number that brings down the house and the darkness of the basic storyline is followed by a clap-along curtain call that sends the children, of which there were many, in the audience home dancing and singing. The reprised song "Anything Can Happen If You Let It," written specifically for the stage version, is not as cathartic as the film's "Let's Go Fly a Kite," but we have already been treated to a sky full of soaring kites, as well as twinkling captured stars, so, taken on its own terms, Mary Poppins is an exuberant success.