At this point in the year, I think we can all use a little magic in our lives, and Western Canada Theatre’s Mary Poppins is just the play to provide it.
On opening night, audience members excitedly shuffled into the theatre and took their seats across from a modestly-set stage which contained a single, albeit large, dollhouse-like set piece. The entire stage was surrounded by an arabesque frame that remained through the entirety of the play, giving the production a very storybook feel. Characters frequently moved back and forth through this frame which only further helped bring the story to life and bring the magic right into our laps.
For those of you familiar with Disney’s 1964 version of P.L. Travers’ classic tale, you will not be disappointed. I recognized all of the songs I remember from watching the movie over and over as a kid, and they were very sing-along-able. Even the costumes were familiar, especially Mary Poppins’ (played by Cailin Stadnyk), right down to her flowered hat and parrot head umbrella. To say it was all a very nostalgic experience is an understatement.
All of the music for the play was provided by only three musicians: Marek Norman, Andrew St. Hilaire and Nick Apivor, who played piano, keyboard and percussion respectively. They were down in the orchestra pit, Norman’s head just barely visible through the square cut into the stage. Aside from a near-accident with the chimney brush of an over-zealous tap dancer, the actors did a good job of maneuvering around the orchestra pit and it was easy to forget it was even there. When I did remember to pay attention to the musicians however, I was continuously amazed by the fact that there were only three of them! They played all of our favourite tunes impeccably without a single wind instrument in sight.
The music was accompanied by rousing dance numbers that included the entire nearly-20-person cast. They are all very talented dancers, and the choreographer, Julie Tomaino, did an amazing job. All of the dance numbers were elaborate and exciting, but my favourite were the two lively tap pieces.
As for the magic, very few productions can accomplish such tricks on their set without having it look extremely cheesy, and even if they do manage to pull it off it’s almost always easy to see how it is done. Not only am I a seasoned theatregoer, I have also worked in the theatre myself, so there is nothing much that surprises me in the business anymore. But I cannot for the life of me figure out how they managed to pull off a couple of the tricks that were performed in Mary Poppins. It seems that the only reasonable conclusion I can come to is that real magic is happening on that stage every night, and all of us Kamloopsians are lucky enough to get to see it.
Mary Poppins runs until Dec. 8 at the Sagebrush Theatre. Student tickets cost $19 and can be purchased at the Kamloops Live! Box Office or online at kamloopslive.ca.