It’s a jolly holiday with Mary Poppins

When it comes down to it, there’s nothing inherently “holiday-ish” about the story of Mary Poppins. But sitting in the audience at Sunday evening’s performance – with its themes of family, caring for the less fortunate and above all, magic – I couldn’t help but think that the colorful and energetic musical was a wonderful way to celebrate the holiday season with the ones you love.

Devotees of the 1964 film will no doubt find variations on the much-loved story, since this stage version is newer and is based off of both the classic movie and P.L. Travers’ original stories about the flying nanny. But while some favorites, like “Sister Suffragette” and “I Love to Laugh,” may be missing, their absence is barely noticed, thanks to the musical’s addition of crowd-pleasers like “Practically Perfect” and “Brimstone and Treacle.”

While my platonic ideal for Mary Poppins is and always will be Julie Andrews, Emily Rohm more than capably fills her shoes as the no-nonsense nanny with a soft heart for the Banks’ family. Rohm’s crystal-clear voice soars on favorite songs like “A Spoonful of Sugar,” and her facial expressions masterfully hint at the mysteries lurking beneath Mary’s exterior.

Every speaking role in the cast gets at least one moment to shine, especially the impossibly talented youngsters tasked with bringing Jane and Michael Banks to life. Peyton Shaffer and Charlie Babbo perfectly embody the trouble-making children whose games with Mary Poppins are actually lessons in disguise. And tap-dancing his way into my heart was Cockney chimney sweep Bert (Matt Crowle), who lights up the stage on the exuberantly staged and choreographed “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and “Step in Time” (both of which brought down the house) and narrates the whole story with his plaintive chorus of “Chim Chim Cher-ee.”

Perhaps due to my recent viewing of “Saving Mr. Banks,” I was especially intrigued by the musical’s treatment of the tightly laced George (Michael Lindner) – and his ultimate redemption. And while wife Winifred (Cory Goodrich) doesn’t have the suffragette storyline from the movie, she shines in her own mini-arc – one with which more than a few grownups may be able to identify.

With the changes in the story comes a few musical numbers that might scare the most sensitive of kids. If your child fits the bill, consider ducking out for intermission a few minutes early during the toys-come-to-life song “Temper, Temper.” If I were 25 years younger, I would certainly be cowering in my seat. And with a two-and-a-half hour run time (including intermission), an extra break might not be a bad idea for some little ones.

As for the magic, well, let’s just say that there was at least one aspect that had me asking “How’d they do that?” long after the play was over. And while the wires are sometimes visible, there’s no denying the awe that you feel when Mary takes flight – whether you’re 6 or 96.

The Paramount Theatre is dressed in its holiday best (as were many kids in the audience), but it wasn’t the greenery and red bows that put me in the seasonal spirit. It was seeing the cast dance and sing so joyously on stage (and singing along on the curtain call version of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”) that made for a practically perfect way to kick off my holiday season.

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