Practically perfect Poppins and comical Chaperone at Theatre Under the Stars

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Mary Poppins and The Drowsy Chaperone | Theatre Under the Stars | Malkin Bowl, Stanley Park | July 7 – August 19, 2017

She’s confident, she never explains anything, and she’s practically perfect in every way — she’s Mary Poppins and she lights up Malkin Bowl this summer with her no-nonsense attitude and whimsical songs.

Poppins really is more than just a nanny — she comes into the Banks family home and whips everyone into shape, especially Mr. Banks. As she says, she’ll stay “until the wind changes” — until Mr. Banks realizes the importance of spending time with his children and she’s no longer needed.

Ranae Miller shines as Poppins with her graceful demeanour and cheery singing voice. The Banks Children, Jane (Lola Marshall) and Michael (Nolen Dubuc), also stood out with their cute accents and innocent acceptance of Poppins’ mysterious charm.

“Jolly Holiday” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” were the best musical numbers that filled the stage with bright coulours and exuberant dancing. “Chim Chim Cher-ee” was also impressive as the chimney sweeps tap danced in time along the London rooftops.

Apart from the rousing songs and authentic character portrayals, some of the English accents left something to be desired. And I had expected Miss Lark’s dog to add a bit more to the show, but poor Willoughby looked like he wanted to be anywhere but on stage.

Some aspects of this story do not stand the test of time, such as the many references to Mrs. Banks not being allowed to accompany her husband to the bank or her feeling trapped in her role as a wife. While this may be somewhat relatable, gender roles and women’s rights have changed since this was written. When Mrs. Banks asks Mr. Banks what his job is, and he replies, “To pay for everything,” I smiled as a young girl in front of me said to her father incredulously, “Pay for everything?”

Despite some of the antiquated gender representations, the lasting impression of Mary Poppins is the inspirational, if somewhat unrealistic, message that “anything can happen if you let it.”       

Mary Poppins is this year’s TUTS musical for the young ones to enjoy; The Drowsy Chaperone is for the adults. This parody musical within a musical is full of puns, cheesy lines, and musical theatre humour, and some not-so-politically correct lines such as “What is it about the Asians that fascinates Caucasians?” The show is self-aware of this though as one character says “Mature audiences are too sophisticated to enjoy broad racial stereotypes, so we’ve banished them to Disney.”

Shawn Macdonald as “Man in Chair” was superb as our narrator leading us through his imagined version of his favourite 1920s musical, The Drowsy Chaperone. The Chaperone’s job is to keep the bride and groom from seeing each other on the eve of their wedding. “I hope you heard that, because that’s the plot,” said the man in the chair. It really is a simple plot, but the non-stop jokes and a cast of quirky characters makes up for that. Italian gangsters posing as pastry chefs, an aviatrix, a Latin lover, and an underling all play a part in this sprawling parody.  

Probably the most meta-theatrical show around, the musical begins with the man in the chair saying “I hate theatre.” His opening monologue about praying that the actors don’t come into the audience and that the show won’t be three hours is brilliant and elicited hoots of laughter from the opening night crowd. His running commentary is a highlight of the production.

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