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By Audrey Anderson
Hometown Weekly Correspondent
Needham Community Theatre (NCT) presented a practically perfect performance of “Mary Poppins” on November 30 at the Newman Elementary School Auditorium. Additional performances were given on November 22–24 and December 1. Over 140 actors and production team members worked hard to button up every detail of this memorable production, which featured a detailed and versatile set, enchanting singing, inspiring acting, and lively dancing.
The story of “Mary Poppins” began as a series of books by P.L Travers. It was later reimagined as a Walt Disney film in 1964 featuring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. The musical stage version debuted in the West End (2004) and on Broadway (2006). It includes elements from both the books and the movie, and the script was written by none other than Julian Fellowes of “Downton Abbey” fame.
NCT’s set, designed by Sarah Carda and Chris Carda, featured roll-on segments that beautifully created the many locations needed for this production. Scene changes were accomplished quickly and efficiently from the Banks family’s Edwardian formal parlor and nursery (complete with stairs to an upper level), to the street, the cathedral steps, the park, the bank, and the rooftops of London.
The lighting, designed by Dan Sheehan, complemented the set by enhancing the atmosphere and differentiating each location. Sound effects by Chris Tess for the wind, birds, a small dog, and cracking masonry aided the development of the plot.
Christine Lamont (Mary Poppins) delightfully portrayed the upbeat, magical, and self-confident iconic nanny. Her voice was sweet, clear, and expressive, with a broad range. She danced with joy and precision. Properly British and efficient, she was also mysterious and fun-loving as she taught the Banks family important life lessons. Her quick and flawless singing - and especially her rapid forming of each letter with her arms and body in the “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” number - was an absolute joy to watch.
Joseph Dreeszen was a tour de force, as he brought top-notch singing, dancing, and acting skills to his role as the chimney sweep and sometime-narrator Bert. His broad smile and wide-ranging gestures and movements across the street, park, and rooftop settings brought energy, engagement, and joyful assurance to the story.
Nathan Lamont (George Banks) was a stern authoritarian with a dedication to business who kept his family at a distance. He speech was commanding. Toward the end of the play, he softened his character and expressed more love and joy as he learned to appreciate time with his family.
Emily Lambert (Winnifred Banks) sang beautifully and portrayed Winnifred as a character showing increasing confidence and strength, as her family goes through troubled times.
The young Kenly Murray (Jane Banks) and Max Shoemaker (Michael Banks) impressed the audience with their all-around talents. Their performances were marked by crystal-clear diction, crisp British accents, and confidently sweet singing and acting.
In her big number, “Brimstone and Treacle,” Maeve McCluskey (Mrs. Andrews) impressed the audience with her holy terror of a fearsome disciplinarian as she slinked across the stage, spewing out her philosophy of child rearing and forcing down doses of cod liver oil. In her answer to Mary Poppins’ “Spoonful of Sugar,” Mrs. Andrews favors punishment, control, and discipline over play and loving attention.
The audience couldn’t help but clap, and even sing along, to the rousing “Step in Time,” performed by Bert and the chimney sweep ensemble, as well as the finale, which included reprisals of the exuberant tunes from the show.
Needham Community Theatre’s production of “Mary Poppins” had everything you’d want in a musical: impressive attention to detail in all aspects of the production, rousing songs, energetic dancing, and accomplished singing and acting. It was a hopeful, life-affirming play about overcoming difficulties and fostering loving connections. The audience left the theater with tunes in their hearts and big smiles on their faces.