By Charles J. Morgan
Revivals in the theatah are of two kinds: the supercolossal musical smash and the ones that high school groups can do handily. The latter is exemplified by “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” the former by “Mary Poppins,” which opened in the Noel S. Ruiz Theatre at the CM Performing Arts Center’s massive venue in Oakdale on Saturday.
This performance was actually a paean to Pat Grossman, that factotum of the theater who directed it and did set design. His interpretive skills were as usual quite evident, but his ability at managing a highly mobile Victorian interior was noteworthy. Grossman’s minutely trained crew gave us a living room, kitchen, Mansard roof and upstairs bedroom all with the flavor of London in the era of the queen who gave her name to the age.
Choreography was by the indefatigable M.E. Junge. Her work in the tap number “A Step in Time” in Act II was outstanding; and in Act I’s “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” was the signature hit in the entire show. One minuscule comment: Your scribe cannot understand why she continues to execute highly complex dance numbers in semi-darkness. Music was handled by Matthew W. Surico with his exemplary accuracy with electronic feed music.
Katie Ferretti held the title role. Her far-ranging soprano and excitingly beautiful stage presence were truly riveting, especially in “Supercali…” and “A Spoonful of Sugar.” Bert the Chimney Sweep was played by Kevin Burns. His mid-range tenor was put to great use as was his obvious acting ability. He had an engaging stage personality that coalesced neatly with Ferretti.
The cook was played by Linda Pentz. Her ability with tough, no-nonsense females was a touch of reality in this magical realism production. Speaking of reality, there was the infrastructure roles of the Banks family. Carl Tese was George, the paterfamilias, perfectly authoritatively Victorian, demanding Order and Precision.
Aloof from any “sentimentality,” he came across most flexibly in a demanding role involving emotional changes. Amy Dowdell was his wife Winifred. Her Mrs. Banks was a plaintive, highly melodic revelation of her role as a Victorian wife. The children, Jane and Michael, were played by Katherine LaFountain and Austin Levine. These two kids were on the boards for long stretches without exits. Their ability to concentrate as well as to sing and dance was demonstrably professional. A double role as Ms. Andrew who replaces Mary Poppins briefly as the Nanny and Mrs. Corrie, a street vendor, was handled by Pamela Parker. The power of her voice in “Brimstone and Treacle” revealed an operatic soprano that caused the light bars to waver.
This production was a true example of how the concatenation of scene changes, done with palpable dexterity, the exactitude of Junge, the eye of Grossman for interpretation prescinding from his skill as set designer, the interfacing of all of the above with that aesthetic dimension of acting, dancing and singing created a ringing smash hit — a tribute to what the CMPAC is capable of — an exciting evening of musical theater.
The CM Performing Arts Center, 931 Montauk Highway, Oakdale, will present “Mary Poppins” through July 19. Tickets range from $20 to $29. For more information, call 218-2810 or visit www.cmpac.com.