For Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers, the Disney movie premiering in 1964 starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke was detestable. She took her objections to Disney himself who replied "The ship has launched, Miss Travers."
Battleship Poppins has nonetheless arrived intact as a stage musical at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center till Jan. 4, setting box office records through the holidays. Director Scott RC Levy once again turns up the steam on a show's catchiest numbers, with invigorating help below deck from conductor Jay Hahn and above from choreographer Mary Ripper Baker. A robust and vibrant cast surrounds the nanny to end all nannies, Mary Poppins, coolly played by Jennifer DeDominici.
Briefly, Mary Poppins is one of a trilogy of tuneful Brit blockbusters, including Oliver! and My Fair Lady, that take audiences through the horrors of Victorian/Edwardian industrialization. Poppins has its dark side, to be sure, as narrator and local chimney sweep Bert (Kevin Pierce) reminds us at the start. But it's all kept pretty much on the surface in Erik D. Diaz's soothing rooftop cityscape of hazy blues and violet at the FAC, and by chirpy songs in arcadian parks courtesy of original music and lyricists Richard and Robert Sherman.
The Banks family is about to be blindsided with its share of bad luck, made worse by their two bratty kids, Jane and Michael, who scare away nannies by the cartload. Humane but miscalculating George, the father, (Tom Auclair) is soon to make a disastrous banking move that will eject them from their genteel residence on Cherry Tree Lane and onto the street.
Enter Poppins to rein in the unruly Banks children and spare George so he can keep a roof over their heads. Her pert solutions to the Banks' domestic squabbles and character flaws result in a lineup of songs as uplifting and magical as she is. Levy's production in that respect is no different from anyone else's.
DeDominici is stellar in the title role, but she is by no means the whole show. As Poppins progresses Sally Lewis Hybl as Winifred Banks emerges as the "real" heroine. Poppins has done so much escapist flying over the rooftops by that point we're left somewhat unsure of her mortality. Hybl and Pierce simply take over Act Two; his rousing delivery of "Step in Time" with the company is infectious and exhilarating. Miriam Roth Ballard, Jen Lennon and Adam Sterling Blancas also contribute vivid supporting characters.
In this otherwise irresistible musical treat, a few things do gradually harden the seats. Some of these minor irritations are built into the hull of Battleship Poppins, others Levy, with a few simple trimmings, could alleviate.
For one, the Shermans don't know when they're giving us too much of a good thing. They grasp a playful lyric and melody such as in "A Spoonful of Sugar" or "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" and wring it to within an inch of its merry old English life — made all the more onerous by weighty here-it-comes-again pauses. (Pierce's low-key "Chim Chim Cher-ee" and Lennon's tender rendition of "Feed the Birds" reorient us, however, to the story at hand.) Act One, moreover, is an inexcusable hour and 29 minutes to intermission.
Yet like all musicals that endure, there's something for both children and adults. Though sometimes sooty on the outside, Bert and Mary are squeaky-clean within, and their relationship, like that of Higgins and Eliza in My Fair Lady, is almost excruciatingly taut in its chastity and mutual regard. Note the sweetly untouched Julie Andrews starred in both, and her Mary admits to only a stealthy sip of the bosses' rum punch, like any worthy domestic, as a quieting antidote to crushing uncertainties.
The costumes were amazing and added to the brilliant production.
The striking colors and textures are reminiscent of Southern Colorado and New Mexico. Lovely work.