Mary Poppins at Quintessence Theatre

Let me get right to the point. “Mary Poppins,” which is currently on the stage at Quintessence Theatre is a spectacular tour de force and a must see. I don’t usually begin a review like this, but when I went to see the show, I expected a variation of the movie that was full of familiar songs, but nothing like what I saw. The show is not based on the movie but derives from the London West End production that debuted in 2004 and is truer to the stories created by P.L Travers. Travers didn’t like what Walt Disney did to her characters but I’m sure, would have been proud to see the 2004 version and the Quintessence production. She died in 1996.

When I do think of Mary Poppins, I realize that almost 60 years after I saw the movie, I can still sing many of the songs. And those songs are in this show along with several others. But they have so much more depth than Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyck gave them in the Disney movie. This is not to fault the actors, but to give credit to the manner in which Julian Fellowes wrote the book for the show, based on Travers’ characters.

For those who may not know the story, Mr. Banks (a banker) and his wife are looking for a nanny. He is not an easy man to work for, and nannies have come and gone. In flies Mary Poppins, with her umbrella, to take on the job.

After the first ten minutes, when we realize we are not going to see reincarnations of Andrews and Van Dyck, we become fascinated with this production of “Mary Poppins,” which spends time developing the many different characters‘ lives, that Mary touches. And Mary herself is a fascinating and fun character herself. She is stubborn. But she is also real. She has an edge. You wouldn’t dare put toads in her bed or pepper in her tea. Hanna Gaffney, who plays Mary, doesn’t try to put on a happy face every minute. But she does try to provide a lightness to the real problems faced by all the people in the Banks’ family. Oh yeah, she can sing. She can sing!!!

Bert, the chimney sweep, is another genuine person. Steve Pacek doesn’t try to play him as a man larger than life. And that is another feature of this amazing production- even when some of the characters are rather absurd, it has a depth that goes beyond the comical. 

And it doesn’t stop there. The remaining members of this ensemble cast take on many roles and each character portrayed is superb. Some have depth. Some are ridiculous. All move effortlessly through a simple set this is constantly moving. Also moving are the wonderful props, including the dog and of course, the kite. Director Emily Trask has put on the Quintessence stage a show that will long be remembered.

The show is 2 ½ hours, but it is totally engrossing and a show that everyone of all ages will love. And I’m sure you will be singing silently, the songs that you know while you watch and continue singing them after you leave.

“Mary Poppins” at Quintessence Theatre, 7137 Germantown Ave., Phila, PA 19119, 215-987-4450. http://www.quintessencetheatre.org  Thru December 31, 2022.

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