The Thomaston Opera house is a spectacular cathedral to the arts; the majestic towers beckon the community to come bear witness to grand adventures played within its walls and we were so fortunate to be among that number when we arrived on Sunday before 2pm. As my daughter and I stood in line with our fellow theater patrons we enjoyed an impromptu celebration from energetic chimney sweeps Laura Busk, Caitlin Barra and Randy Ronco (as Bert) who danced atop the roof and waved to all the children who were waiting to see Disney’’s Mary Poppins musical, the Connecticut premiere. It was a magical, personal touch that made the afternoon all the more special and we looked forward to the other surprises we would find inside the Opera House.
We climbed the steps to the mezzanine level. The volunteers were extremely helpful, allowing us to find our seats and once there we were riveted to the action until intermission! From our vantage point we could see the stage very well and we were able to take a closer look at the architecture of the historic structure. I say “we” took a closer look at the architecture but in reality I was looking at the structure while my daughter enjoyed some candy from the concession stand as we waited for the show to begin.
Now for those who don’t know, the musical is not a scene- for-scene adaption of the beloved movie. The narrative provides new elements that explore the characters’ motivations and the story adds new characters as well, including a wonderful Disney-esque villain who arrives in the second act.
The work of Kathleen Green and Ben Stone-Zelman was extraordinary. Playing Jane and Michael Banks, the children are integral in nearly every single scene. Without their special performance, the musical would not have worked. The play needed actors of their caliber to portray the children and these fine young actors delivered. My daughter laughed heartily and a lot at the zingers Green and Stone-Zelman said! Kudos goes to the director, James Donohue, for eliciting such fine performances from all of his actors but especially these two young ones.
The voice of Katie Brunetto as Mary Poppins is enchanting and her delivery as the all knowing, magical nanny was pitch perfect but I will call her performance “practically perfect’ as that is how the wondrous Mary Poppins describes herself! It must be difficult to step into the role of an iconic figure’s shoes especially when the role was portrayed by Dame Julie Andrews just as it would be difficult for Randy Ronco to dance in the steps imagined for Dick Van Dyke and yet both performers succeed marvelously. Randy Ronco’s Bert is engaging and joyful. There is not an ounce of cynicism in the part, he is a boundless font of energy and good will and the audience felt they could trust Ronco’s “Bert”. He leads many of the show stopping numbers and makes them magical (but more on that later).
Interestingly, the play provides context to the dynamic of the marriage between Mr. and Mrs. Banks, wonderfully acted by Peter Bard and Betsy Edwards. Unlike the movie version, this play provides insight into why the Banks’ family operates as it does. Bard’s version of Banks gives glimpses of a possible redemption hidden beneath layers of difficult personal history. And Edwards’ Mrs. Banks is captivating for finally, her character has a purpose and a reason for her actions and her song “Being Mrs. Banks” provides those answers.
The supporting actors and actresses carried their parts in marvelous form. Daniel Dressel plays multiple parts in the production, a feat worthy of Peter Sellers and deftly reacts to a particular scene involving special effects in the kitchen. Jessica Chabre’s Mrs. Brill brings the gravitas to the no-nonsense housekeeper. Tracy Funke as Mrs Corry and LaureAnn Price as Miss. Andrews are superb in their newly created roles, each performing their own song/dance number for comedic (Mrs. Corry) or terrifying (Miss Andrews) effect. Paula Roll’s “The Birdwoman” sings Feed the Birds, which is the song that gets stuck in my head long after the show is over (but that’s a good thing!)
The music was outstanding. This production provided exactly what the audience wanted in a Disney Mary Poppins. Conducted by Jim Luurtsema, the orchestra was flawless in their execution of the music we have come to know and love. When matched with the expert choreography of Jen Bunger, there were THREE show stopping performances with the ensemble cast dancing that brought the house down. Kudos again goes to Randy Ronco who brought boundless energy to the stage. He enjoyed one dance number where there was a special effect involved. I loved the special effects in this production so much I do not want to spoil them by mentioning them. I will simply say there ARE special effects that the audience will thoroughly enjoy and you have to see it.
And what happened at the end of the play? It’s not a spoiler to tell you that the audience stood in standing ovation sharing their gratitude for a fun filled afternoon of entertainment to the performers on stage, cheering for the wondrous work of magic that appeared on stage. THEN, most remarkably, the music continued as the clapping became part of a musical number to close out the night and the audience and those actors on stage all shared in that moment of unity…of community.
This is what that theatre experience is all about and something that movies or television could never duplicate. The live performance draws the audience in. When we leave we preserve cherished memories, not the exact reproductions of a DVD or streamed show. My daughter sat next to me and sat up in her seat at attention. She belly laughed at the jokes. She stood and applauded alongside me during the standing ovation. This was a moment, a practically perfect moment, thanks to the magic of Disney, of Mary Poppins and the wonderful crew at the Landmark Community Theatre who brought that moment to life.”