I kept waiting for the gee-whiz moment.
After all, “Mary Poppins” director Phil McKinley knows something about special effects: He took over the dysfunctional Broadway production of “Spider-Man” and made it into a crowd-pleaser.
Yes, Mary Poppins does fly away with her umbrella open, ropes fully visible. And the same thing is true for Bert, played by Broadway veteran Matthew LaBanca. He does some kicky aerial somersaults, with the help of pulleys, during the invigorating number “Step in Time.” (This song has, by far, the most interesting choreography of the show.)
Spoiler alert: The gee-whiz moment finally does come at the end.
But don’t expect the jaw-dropping magical illusions that were evident in the Broadway or London productions. At times on opening night, the serviceable scenery seemed to creak into place as if in slow motion. The staging kinks will probably be worked out by the end of the run.
As you might remember from the P.L. Travers books or the 1964 Disney movie starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, Mary Poppins is a nanny with supernatural powers who comes to the rescue of the Banks family. The children are naughty and out of control, the father is arrogant and repressed, and the mother is insecure and uncertain about her roles as wife and mother.
For the most part, this show is a no-frills effort, solid and professional in every way. Analisa Leaming as Mary Poppins has a lovely voice, although it was a bit pitchy during her first number, “Practically Perfect.” (Not sure if it was a case of nerves or that her voice just needed time to warm up.)
But overall, Leaming has a graceful, charming stage presence and is convincing in her oh-so-clever depiction of Mary Poppins. Michele Ragusa, who plays a sympathetic Winifred Banks, also has an appealing singing voice, and James Hindman depicts the uptight George Banks with just the right amount of conviction.
The charismatic Maddox Bane and Fiona Scott as the children, Michael and Jane Banks, do a bang-up job. Of course, those darn kids are given the best lines of the show.
Tregoney Shepherd as the housekeeper, Mrs. Brill, delivers big time with the comic relief and slapstick, as does Chris Brick, who plays her household sidekick, Robertson Ay.
Theater buffs will recognize Kansas City’s own Melinda McDonald as Mrs. Corry, who leads the cast in a rousing “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” (Other KC natives include Kip Niven as Admiral Boom and the bank chairman, and Becky Barta as Miss Smythe.)
Act 2 seemed to drag a bit on opening night, which may have reflected the structure of the show and the length and repetition of the musical numbers.
The messages in “Mary Poppins,” though, are valuable. Don’t judge people on appearance alone. Family should come before work. Embrace your inner child and fly a kite.
This is a show for children of all ages and children at heart. And the music still resonates.