Beloved classics tend to share common ingredients: relatable stories, charming characters, catchy music — and in this case, a spoonful of sugar. First introduced in 1934 through the books of P.L. Travers and made ever more famous in the 1964 Disney musical when played by Julie Andrews, nanny Mary Poppins has had generations of children and parents alike wishing she would drift into their lives with her magic umbrella.
In the stage version, with music and lyrics by Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman and book by Julian Fellowes, the action closely follows the story of the film. Active and curious siblings Jane and Michael Banks have driven off a string of nannies, leaving their parents, as well as the rest of the house staff, at wit's end. Just in time and as if by magic, enter nanny Mary Poppins, who through her own quirky methods manages to transform the entire Banks family with laughter and love. The chance to watch the story unfold live on stage is a treat for life-long fans and young ones being introduced for the first time. From the moment you enter the Van Duzer Theatre lobby, you're transported to a world of whimsy and charm — colorful kites fly overhead and themed concessions tempt — arrive early, as the gingerbread stars are not to be missed.
Humboldt Light Opera Company provides an enthusiastic and balanced cast. In the title role, Fiona Ryder is practically perfect. She manages to capture the character's particular mix of confidence and kindness while her musical numbers showcase her impressive vocal range. As Bert, James Edward Gadd exudes cockney charm, taking on the task of singing in accent. As a whole, the performers are strong and well suited to their roles. Director Carol Ryder has led a very large cast in achieving true synergy — it's at its greatest as a whole filling the broad stage with movement and song. Classic numbers like "Jolly Holiday" and "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" are sure to have audience members smiling (and likely clapping and singing along). With everyone on stage you can also see the wide range of ages among the actors (take a look at the program — the show is a family affair). The dance numbers, choregraphed by Melissa Hinz (with Hannah Jones assisting for "Step in Time"), are also notable and show off the fun, captivating costumes. Be prepared for everything from elegant lifts to upbeat tap dancing.
Overall, the production is brimming with theater magic. HLOC makes full use of the Van Duzer's technical capabilities for this big show full of big sets and big voices. The set, designed by Jayson Mohatt, is highly efficient and effective in presenting Edwardian London — large set pieces spin and transform to create both the indoor and outdoor spaces of the Banks' world. Mohatt is also responsible for the whimsical lighting design. More than once I overheard a young audience member gasp and quietly exclaim, "Oh ... pretty!"
As someone who grew up with the film, I wasn't sure how much of the wonder could be translated to the stage. I was not in any way disappointed. The cast completes scene changes smoothly, keeping the show very well paced. That said, it is a longer production, running more than two hours including intermission. It may be best to plan for a matinee if you're bringing younger viewers.
HLOC's Mary Poppins is an ideal fit if you are seeking something appropriate for the whole family to round out your summer — a dose of whimsy before returning to the reality and hard work of the school year. The production continues at Humboldt State University's Van Duzer Theatre through Aug. 16 with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $13 to $19. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.hloc.com or call 630-5013.
Plays in the Park continues its season in Redwood Park with two shows opening this weekend. Shakespeare's Twelfth Night (or What You Will) begins its run Aug. 7, playing Fridays and Saturdays through Sept. 5 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $12. Opening Aug. 9 is the free family show The Unprincess, which plays at 2 p.m. and continues on Sundays through Sept. 6.
Ferndale Repertory presents Legally Blond The Musical opening Aug. 14 and running through Sept. 6. For more information call 786-5483.