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Mary Poppins

The enchanted nanny's umbrella flies her to La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts.

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Clockwise, from front left: Leigh Wakeford, Brandi Burkhardt, Logan J. Watts, and Noa Solorio in Mary Poppins, directed by Glenn Casale, at La Mirada Theatre.
(© Michael Lamont)

La Mirada Theatre presents a truncated version of the hit Broadway musical Mary Poppins under the direction of Glenn Casale. Audiences can hear the songs they remember from the movie, like "Let's Go Fly a Kite" and "A Spoonful of Sugar," but this production exorcises the magic from the production.

Based on P.L. Travers' stories and the 1964 Disney movie starring Julie Andrews, Mary Poppins tells a story of the Banks family who, thanks to their rambunctious children, cannot keep a nanny for long. That all changes one day when a mystical nanny and her carpetbag of tricks arrives, ostensibly to train the two children of the house, but who actually become instrumental in saving a family.

Much of the tale has been stripped down, with songs and dialogue cut to the detriment of the story. The vital song "Playing the Game," where the toys spring to life and illustrate how naughty the kids are, has been dropped, making Mary's abandoning of the children at the end of Act 1 seem abrupt and purposeless. Similar cuts were made in the show that make for unexplained changes in character tone.

The use of a smaller orchestra gives the songs a tinny sound. Dance numbers, like the statues dance during "Jolly Holiday," have been removed, resulting in a sequence that loses some joviality. The choreography in "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" is precise, though uninspired. But "Step in Time," where Bert (Leigh Wakeford) walks the walls to the ceiling, is still a spectacular sight.

The cast of trained voices handles the songs adroitly, yet the energy was solemn when it should have been effervescent. Usually, Mary glides up the stairs and floats about the stage even when her feet are on the ground. Brandi Burkhardt is too earthbound as the "practically perfect" nanny. Her vocal highlight is on "Feed the Birds", which she sings graciously, lending tenor to the bird woman's function in society. Shannon Warne as Banks' former actress wife, who's trying to find her place in her husband's stringent world, has a warm singing voice and projects a kindness and love for her family. Mary Gutzi is fiendishly funny as the "Holy Terror" Mrs. Andrews. Her song "Brimstone and Treacle" added vigor to Act 2. Thirteen-year-old Noa Solorio as young Jane Banks never comes off precocious. She reacts to others in a way that feels as if she is truly inhabiting the role and not just play-acting.

Instead of being constantly in motion, the cast mostly stood stiff as if unsure of their motivations. Director Casale helms a listless, cookie-cutter rendition of a spirited show. Mary Poppins should inspire the audience to fly through the rafters with pixie dust. This production, however, misses its landing.

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