In wonderfully uplifting fashion, the mighty Muse Machine has done it again. The arts education organization supplies an outstanding, heartwarming and smile-inducing presentation of the 2006 Tony Award-nominated adaptation of Disney and Cameron Mackintosh’s “Mary Poppins,” the Muse’s 32nd annual student musical continuing through Sunday at the Victoria Theatre.
Featuring 150 Muse students from across the Miami Valley and based on the beloved 1964 Academy Award-winning film of the same name and the books by P.L. Travers, “Mary Poppins” absolutely shines due to the simple fact that cohesiveness reigns supreme. Even the Muse’s eye-popping ability to fill the Victoria stage with students galore isn’t cause for crowded concern. In fact, there are so many students featured this time a large ensemble of youngsters confidently storm the aisles to great effect during the climax of the Act 1 showstopper “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” the largest musical number in Muse history. Thankfully, co-directors Lula Elzy, Joe Deer and Douglas Merk, creating one of the breeziest “Poppins” I have seen, once again have a clear understanding of what suits the organization in terms of character and scope.
This touching tale of love, family and reconciliation, adapted by librettist Julian Fellowes (“Downton Abbey”) and set in 1910 England, is remarkably led by Brianna Russ in the sophisticatedly chipper titular role and striking tenor Christian Johnson as friendly chimney sweep Bert. A knockout last year as Nancy in the Muse’s terrific “Oliver!,” the vocally strong Russ returns with aplomb, conveying a beguiling blend of sternness, gleefulness and warmth. Johnson’s breakthrough portrayal recalls the high-kicking magnetism of Gavin Lee who originated Bert in London’s West End and on Broadway. A charming narrator and an agile triple threat, Johnson particularly impresses with aerial acrobatics in the marvelously rhythmic “Step in Time,” one of the most glorious numbers Elzy has choreographed in her 17 years with Muse. He is also vibrantly partnered with Russ in such songs as “Jolly Holiday” and the aforementioned “Super…”
Additionally, the Banks household, forever changed by Mary’s magical influence, is enjoyably grounded in the radiant performances of Mitchell Rawlins (effectively displaying the frustration and transformation of the uptight George), Cecily Dowd (fascinatingly mature beyond her years as the concerned Winifred), Megan Braun (Jane), and the adorable Jamey Paul (Michael). Well-matched Lindsey Smith (Mrs. Brill) and Rollie Fisk (Robertson Ay) provide delightful comic relief. Jack Blair (Northbrook), Leo Deer (Von Hussler), Katie Hubler (Bird Woman), James Fields IV (Neleus), Tyler Hanson (Constable), Jack Lewis (a humorously elderly Bank Chairman), and Mackenzie Wolcott (a formidable Miss Andrew) are noteworthy.
Accented by musical director Claude Lucien Thomas’ robust orchestra, John Rensel’s expert lighting design, and an array of fantastic, colorful period costumes courtesy of coordinators Lyn Baudendistel, Robin Brown, Toni Donato Shade, and Alisa Vukasinovich, “Mary Poppins” is a wondrously whimsical theatrical experience not to be missed.
“Mary Poppins” continues through Jan. 17 at the Victoria Theatre, 138 N. Main St., Dayton. Performances are today at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. Act One: 75 minutes; Act Two: 60 minutes. Tickets are $26-$60. For tickets or more information, call (937) 228-3630 or visit www.ticketcenterstage.com