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Mary Poppins

Comedy is central to Utah Shakespeare Festival fare this summer. Mary Poppins, a musical that pulls out all the stops, is a shining example for the level of professionalism displayed for summer visitors.  The first play I saw when I arrived, it left an indelible mark.

As most people know from the Disney movie years ago, Mary Poppins (played here by the delectable Elizabeth Broadhurst) is a magical figure who changes the lives of tiny Jane Banks (diminutive Mila Belle Howells) and her even smaller brother, Michael (young Andrew Barrick). Unlike the beloved series of novels about her, though, this play has been fashioned by Julian Fellowes of Downton Abbey fame into a morality play whose messages about remote fathers, the evils of big banking and the snobbery of the class system is balanced by the light-hearted adventures that Mary instigates in cahoots with Bert (Eddie Lopez), the chimney sweep.

Classic performances by Peggy O’Connell as Mrs. Brill, the cook, and Susana Florence as Winifred, the children’s misguided mother, bring comedy and pathos into the mix. But it is the journey of George Banks (Chris Mixon), that pulls the musical along through such familiar songs as “A Spoonful of Sugar,” “Feed the Birds” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocoius” intermixed with newer songs like “Practically Perfect” (my favorite!). Mixon’s stiff upper lip comprises the “problem” that Mary must solve before she can fly away. The dilemma unfolds when Mr. Banks’ former nanny, Miss Andrew (the formidable Bree Murphy) arrives on the scene, whom Mary must vanquish  in a musical number “Brimstone & Treacle” leavened with “A Teaspoon of Sugar.”

A phalanx of designers and crafts-persons comprise the behind-the-scenes group that created this delightful musical.  An important nod must go to the unsung but important orchestra, but most notable, perhaps, is the versatile set that features a cock-eyed view of a London skyline, circa 1900.  Costumes by Brenda Van Der Wiel are crucial additions to the flavor to Edwardian London. Mary Poppins will always be remembered for her prim umbrella and the ability to fly.  The actress’s elevations are the most awe-inspiring of all, as supplied by Vertigo Flying Effects. For smooth execution and attention to detail by director Karen Azenberg and Lenny Daniel, the choreographer, this Mary Poppins rivals more pricey road and Broadway productions.

The Utah Shakespeare Festival unfolds through October 22, 2016 in Beverley Center for the Arts in both the Randall L. Jones Theatre and the new Engelstad Shakespeare Theatre just off the campus of Southern Utah University with summer and fall offerings. Tickets range from $20.00 to $77.00; phone 1 (800) PLAYTIX or online at Walk-up box offices are now located outside the new Eileen and Allen Anes studio theatre, just east the corner of 300 West and Center Streets in Cedar City, Utah, 84720.