There’s an audible gasp when the curtains of the Wheelock Family Theatre open, revealing a foggy slice of London, accented by Janie Howland’s stunning white skyline silhouette. But that initial gasp is only the first of many as director and choreographer Russell Garrett unfolds a production of “Mary Poppins” that proves to be “Practically Perfect” in every way.
Producer Cameron Mackintosh’s stage adaptation of the beloved Disney movie hews closely to the P.L. Travers stories of the magical nanny who arrives on the wind to straighten out the Banks family. The show includes nearly all of Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman’s music, plus some new tunes by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe (“Honk!”). The revised book by Julian Fellowes (yes, the creator of “Downton Abbey”) does get a little twee as George Banks’s overly strict upbringing is revealed as the reason for his coldness to his children, but Garrett wisely keeps his actors from wallowing in sentimentality.
Of course, the show is called “Mary Poppins,” and in the title role, Lisa Yuen offers a nanny who is businesslike without being brusque and mysterious enough to keep the attention of her mischievous charges, Jane and Michael Banks. While Yuen anchors the show with her crystal-clear soprano and matter-of-fact delivery, she is balanced by Dan Reardon’s charming Bert, Mary Poppins’s friend, who works not only as a chimney sweep, lamplighter, and artist, but also serves as the story’s narrator, setting the stage for the changes in scene and tempo.
Along with those two leading players, Andrew Giordano adds some sincerity to the uptight Mr. Banks, Shana Dirik nearly steals the show as “the holy terror” who was Mr. Banks’s nanny, and Lily Ramras and Asher Navisky (who alternate with Eowyn Young and Cameron Levesque) as Jane and Michael provide spunk and absolute joy.
But it’s hardly fair to highlight individual actors since every member of this company is “spit spot.” Director Garrett carefully builds the energy of the show toward a series of crescendos involving extraordinary ensemble numbers that include wonderful magic tricks, fabulous flying, and some stunning choreography. Garrett’s moves capitalize on the strengths of his outstanding ensemble dancers, but everyone in the company seems to have taken it to another level.
The dance routine for “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” uses the inspiration of the original Broadway choreography, incorporating American Sign Language into the combinations. But those gasp-inducing moves are topped by the routines in “Chim Chim Cher-ee” and then by the show-stopping “Step in Time.”
The first-rate performances are supported by Howland’s evocative, two-tiered set, with a sense of perspective that makes it feel like a beautiful pop-up book. The effect is enhanced by Franklin Meissner Jr.’s lighting, which bathes the silhouettes in lush shades of color to give us a sense of time and place and a little mystery.
Robert L. Rucinski’s spritely seven-piece orchestra provides the finishing touch, bringing everything together in this exuberant production of “Mary Poppins.” The 9-year-old sitting near me said she is more of a soccer player than a performer, but she didn’t hesitate to kick her “knees up, and step in time” during the finale of this delightful show.
Music and lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman. Additional music by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. Book by Julian Fellowes. Co-created by Cameron Mackintosh. Based on the books by P.L. Travers and the Disney film. Directed and choreographed by Russell Garrett. Presented by Wheelock Family Theatre, 200 The Riverway, through Feb. 28. Tickets: $20-$38, 617-879-2300, www.wheelockfamilytheatre.org
Terry Byrne can be reached at email@example.com.