Orpheus Musical Theatre, Canada’s OLDEST community musical theatre organization, kicked of its 2023/24 season last week with their presentation of the Broadway musical Mary Poppins. This musical is based on the Mary Poppins children’s books by P.L Travers, as well as the hugely popular (and for many: nostalgic!) 1964 Disney film starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke.
I must admit that I am not one of those people who finds the story to be particularly nostalgic or reminiscent of my childhood. I recall seeing the film once as a child, but found the story to be somewhat dull at that time. I attended this show with my wife (and fellow theatre-critic!), whose experience with the film was similar, and she recalls it being a bit unsettling and scary. Something about the transitions to animation, and things seemingly coming to life, haha! However, we were informed prior to seeing the show that the stage musical makes quite the departure from the Disney film, and so we arrived at Centrepointe theatre with open minds, and genuine excitement about seeing another Orpheus show, as they never fail to impress.
If you’ve never been to Meridian Theatres @ Centrepointe, it’s a remarkable venue for the performing arts. It offers two different stages, both with exceptional acoustics and lighting. All Orpheus shows are performed in the larger, main theatre to accommodate larger audiences. The lobby area has plenty of space, and a couple of bars for refreshments. Parking is ample (and free!) and the staff is always friendly.
An interesting thing about seeing a show as an adult that you haven’t seen or experienced since childhood is that your entire perspective changes. While as children, our experience with this story was that it was dull, and not at all realistic, as adults, we found quite the opposite: the storyline was completely engaging, and the realism was almost comical! My wife pointed out that perhaps the most relatable part of the story is that the Banks children can’t seem to keep a nanny (the two Covert-Toddlers are a handful sometimes!)
An Orpheus show review is not complete without first acknowledging the incredibly-talented crew behind the scenes; the crew are the glue that holds a show together! First, I’d like to offer my congratulations on a job very well done to the Lilian Gibson for the incredible costume design. They were spot-on throughout the show, so shoutouts are also due to Rachel Ann Smyth (Costume Production Manager) and Tiara Wallace (Wardrobe Supervisor). Orpheus always impresses me with their elaborate set designs. They are always versatile, and appear to be exceptionally well-built; although the set for Mary Poppins wasn’t as elaborate as I’m used to seeing at Orpheus shows, it was impressive nonetheless. It felt more subdued than the sets for some of their other shows in recent years, which created the perfect backdrop for the magic of this show! The set designer is Tony Walker who is celebrating his 28th Orpheus show!
The make up and hair design by Jeremy Sanders did not disappoint. Of note was the eclectic and colourful hair styles in “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”, which was by far my favourite song in the show, but more on that below.
When the show began, I was thrilled to see one of my newest favourite Orpheus performers, Brendan Finnerty, take the stage as Bert. Finnerty was one of my Standout Performers in Orpheus’ Something Rotten, so I knew immediately that this was going to be a great show. It is hard to pinpoint one individual aspect that makes Finnerty so exceptional; rather, it seems to be a combination of factors. To start, his accent for this character was perfect. Flawless and consistent from start to finish. His mannerisms were spot-on, making the character of Bert even more charming and likeable. And his vocals and dancing were flawless. Finnerty is really the definition of a Standout Performer, because his performance draws the audience in; he captures the attention of the crowd, and they don’t want to look away! I absolutely loved him in this role. Exceptional!
Jet Kearns portrayed Jane Banks, the young daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Banks, and one of the children whom Mary Poppins is responsible for nannying. I think that any child capable of holding their own on a stage with so many talented adults is to be commended, but the talented Kearns absolutely stood out among the cast. She delivered every line with the perfect amount of emotion, and she was funny and adorable, just as you’d expect Jane Banks to be! But it was her vocal and dance skills that truly set Kearns apart. Congratulations on such a sensational Orpheus debut, Jet!
With a large cast on the stage, you would think that it would be tough to pick standout performances from the ensemble. However, I was blown away by the talented Sienna Rader. This child has SO much energy, an incredible stage presence, and possibly the best dance skills that I have seen from any child in a live theatre production. Kudos on a fantastic performance!
Sometimes in my reviews, there is a non-actor Standout Performance; an element of the show that just impressed so much that it (deservedly!) begs to be acknowledged. In Mary Poppins, this was the case with the number Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. This entire song was energy, excitement, colour, life, and fun! The audience began clapping along, and it was the highlight of the show for me. The choreography for this number rivals some of the best that I have seen from Orpheus, and that is saying a lot! Laura Merani did such a great job here! The hair and costumes for this number also stood out, so huge accolades again to designers Lilian Gibson and Jeremy Sanders. You both really killed it with this one! This entire number was so well done that if there were more shows, I would without a doubt go and see Mary Poppins a SECOND time, just to experience the magic of this song again! Hugely impressed!
Normally I try to attend shows on opening night, but due to unforeseen circumstances, I saw this show late in the run. The two-week run of Mary Poppins ended on November 26th. However, if you didn’t see it, you will have to take my word for it: it was amazing! I’d highly recommend checking out the Orpheus website to get information on the next two shows this season: Dreamgirls, running from March 1st – 10th, and The Wizard of Oz, running May 31st – June 9th.