The Aerodynamic Nanny Is Back in Flight at the Beck Center in a Satisfying Mary Poppins

Poppin's fresh

Mary Poppins

Through January 3 at the Beck Center

17801 Detroit Avenue, Lakewood, 216-521-2540.

Okay, so it's almost Christmas and you still haven't taken the family to any event where you can all get together and enjoy the same thing at the same time. Everyone in your clan is isolated with their own personal screens and doing their own thing: watching Django Unchained on Netflix, playing "Knightmare Tower" on an iPhone, giggling at the kitties on the icanhas.cheezburger website, and binging on Parks and Recreation.

But there comes a time in every family's life when two or more people arise from their screens, bump into each other on the way to the bathroom, and think, "Wait, this is a person I'm related to. Why don't we go do something together?" And that's where Mary Poppins at Beck Center comes in. It's a show anyone in your family can enjoy, of any age, and then you can all chat about it afterwards and everyone knows exactly what you're talking about. For the uninitiated, this is called a "shared experience." I know, weird, right?

So here are the Ten Best reasons to see this production of Mary Poppins:

Beck Center knows how to do holiday shows. In the past, their presentations of Beauty and the Beast and Annie have been dazzling spectacles, and this version of the flying nanny, now in its second season at Beck, is no exception.

Rebecca Pitcher is a spot-on Mary, singing the familiar Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman music with gusto. And Pitcher seems even more relaxed in the role this year, throwing the right amount of superciliousness into the tart Poppins' putdowns ("We are not a codfish, Michael!").

As Mary's comic foil Bert, Matthew Ryan Thompson is even more engaging this time around, relating more effectively with Mary and dancing up a storm in the showstopper "Step In Time."

Katherine DeBoer and Curt Arnold as mom and pop Banks, proper London parents, provide a solid base for the show, with DeBoer adding her powerful pipes to "Cherry Tree Lane" and "Being Mrs. Banks."

Even the two Banks' kids don't get on your nerves, as portrayed by Anna Barrett and Joseph Daso. These two definitely know their way around this show.

As the Bird Woman, Peggy Gibbons gives the gorgeous song "Feed the Birds" a lovely and tender interpretation, showing why this was supposedly one of Walt Disney's favorite tunes.

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. 'Nuff said.

The not-so-talented cook Mrs. Brill is given a comic edge by Nan Golz as she and the in-house handyman (Eric Dahl) keep hearth and home together until Mary unleashes her magic.

The projections designed by Mike Tutaj are a show in themselves, with various flying species (birds, Poppins, etc.) soaring across a field of open white umbrellas. It's almost enough to make you believe in airborne babysitters.

A tasty, acidic turn by Amiee Collier as Mrs. Corry, the fearsome nanny who croons an ode to the nasty concoction of "Brimstone and Treacle," which she uses to keep her youthful charges in line. It was she who, back in the day, turned Mr. Banks into a hollow shell of a man, before Mary breathes life back into him.

Once again, choreographer Martin Cespedes shows how he can fashion wonderful dance numbers even when the hoofers aren't exactly Broadway quality.

Director Scott Plate has a masterful way with bringing out the theme of a show without pounding you over the head with messaging.

There are some tiny wrinkles, such as the rather ground-based technology (a rolling staircase) used to "fly" Mary. And, of course, some of the aspects of this show have changed over the years, due to new knowledge. For instance, the song "A Spoonful of Sugar," which was once a tuneful homage to a harmless carbohydrate, can now be seen by some as an insidious invitation to fructose-poison our children.

And upon reflection, chimney sweeping doesn't seem like a charming occupation, what with the attendant dangers of falling from roofs, spontaneous bat attacks and chimney-lung disease. Not only that, hiring a nanny for your kids without references (Mary doesn't abide such things) seems like a sure route to disaster and an appearance on NBC's Dateline.

But this show, set more than a century ago and based on the Disney/Cameron Mackintosh production in London and on Broadway, can ignore all those contemporary issues and blissfully proceed. Beck Center's Mary Poppins, while not "practically perfect in every way" like the title character, is close enough to merit an initial or return visit. So couch potatoes, throw off your electronic chains and share some fun live theater with other live people!

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Christine Howey

Christine Howey has been reviewing theater since 1997, first at Cleveland Free Times and then for other publications including City Pages in Minneapolis, MN and The Plain Dealer. Her blog, Rave and Pan, also features her play reviews. Christine is a former stage actor and director, primarily at Dobama Theatre...
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