Tuesday, December 27, 2011


Nicolas Dromard as ‘Bert’ performs “Step In Time” with the National Tour Company of MARY POPPINS. ©Disney/CML. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Reviewed by James Karas

Walking up the wall and on the ceiling; flying across the stage, over the audience and landing back on the stage using an umbrella: these are some of the hijinks offered in Mary Poppins, the delightful musical now playing at the Princess of wales Theatre in Toronto.

The story of Mary Poppins, the nanny with magical powers, started as a series of children’s books by P. L. Travers and hit the big times and big screen in the 1964 Walt Disney movie of the same title. The movie had Julie Andrews as the marvelous nanny with Dick Van Dyke as Bert and major comic talents such as Ed Wynn and Arthur Treacher. The film garnered numerous awards and added the word supercalifragilisticexpialidocious to the English language. The movie is exceptionally enjoyable.

Forty years after the movie opened Cameron Mackintosh brought out a stage version of the film with some changes. The 2004 London production made it to Broadway and road companies have taken it just about everywhere. It has now reached Toronto and one has to admit that Mary Poppins provides marvelous light entertainment on stage especially for the young who seemed to be enjoying it even more than the adults.

The musical contains most of the songs composed by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman for the movie as well as some new songs by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. Richard Eyre, who directed the London production, directs this staging as well and he is as good as they come in the business.

What happens? Well, lots! George Banks (Laird Mackintosh) is a banker and the head of a British household in the early 1900’s. He is a strict disciplinarian while his wife Winifred (Rebecca Thornhill) is an indulgent but flustered mother. They have two ill-behaved children, Jane (Camden Angelis) and Michael (Reese Sebastian Diaz), a hilarious cook (Valerie Brill) and a servant (Dennis Moench).

The children are smart, rambunctious and cute. But they are badly behaved and the current nanny is storming out and everything is in an uproar at the Banks residence.

We have already met Bert (Nicolas Dromard), a jack-of-all trades who can sing dance and be funny – a Bert and Dromard that we can definitely take to. But we now need the big star. No sooner than the Banks children wish for a perfect nanny than Mary Poppins (Megan Osterhaus) descends.

She is pretty, with a lovely voice, has extraordinary powers and a bagful of tricks that can delight the most hard-to-please children and even adults. Osterhaus is splendid in the role.

Plot complications abound, of course, from banking and business issues to a visit with the Bird Woman (Janet McEwen) where you “Feed the Birds” and Mrs. Corry (Michelle E. White) who sells words like “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and even if the sound of it may be atrocious it makes for a very invigorating song.

You do not need “A Spoonful of Sugar” to make this musical with its delightful comic scenes and very vigorous dancing go down. You will “Step in Time” with Mary, Bert and the Chimney Sweeps, “Chim Chim Cher-ee” down Cherry Tree Lane, feel like you want to “Fly a Kite” and in the end have a “Jolly Holiday” and a damn good night at the theatre.

Mary Poppins by Julian Fellowes (book), Richard M. Sherman and Robert E. Sherman (original music and lyrics) and George Stiles and Anthony Drewe (additional songs and lyrics) continues until January 8, 2012 at The Princess of Wales Theatre, 300 King St. West, Toronto, Ontario. www.mirvish.com.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


Reviewed by James Karas

Review a Christmas concert?

Children with shining faces and intense attention to the conductor singing “Silent Night”, a choir, joined by an enthusiastic if somewhat cacophonous audience, intoning the Hallelujah Chorus – that’s a Christmas Concert and you don’t review that. You just enjoy it.

The event at the Metropolitan United Church in Toronto was not called a Christmas Concert but a Yuletide Celebration and there was a wide variety of musical offerings from opera to Greek songs. That gives an opening for comment. The Hannaford Street Silver Band, mezzo-soprano Ariana Chris, The Canadian Children’s Opera Company Youth and Principal Choruses performed and with that kind of array you have carte blanche to praise and even criticize without being assigned to a particularly hot cauldron for your eternal residence.

With a group like The Hannaford Street Silver Band you are guaranteed some powerful accompaniment and solo pieces. The most interesting piece was a cornet solo by Marcus Venables which was played by his father Robert Venables. “Eternal Life” demands some intricate playing that was done well. David Briskin conducted with assurance and enthusiasm.

The Hannaford Band performed several pieces ranging from robust Fanfares to more lyrical pieces. It also accompanied most of the choral and solo singing.

The Principal and Youth Choruses under the firm hand of conductor Ann Cooper Gay sounded wonderful in the high vaulted church, the perfect setting for Christmas carols. There were times when I wished they were accompanied by an organ or simply sang a cappella rather than having the over-powering Band especially in carols that have Gregorian chant modulations.

We were treated to the Finale from Laura’s Cow: The Legend of Laura Secord, a new opera by Errol Gay, a work that is not scheduled to premiere until next June.

You probably can’t have opera arias and Greek songs and still qualify the evening as a Christmas Concert. This Yuletide celebration had four songs by Greek composers and “Una voce poco fa” from Rossini’s The Barber of Seville. Ariana Chris’s rich and mellow had little problem dealing with the aria but the brass accompaniment gives one pause. You need to make some quick aural adjustments to listening to the very different accompaniment.

There was an issue of balancing the band, the singer and the acoustics and the powerful sound of the band provided strong competition for Ms Chris and she did not always win the contest.

Ms Chris sang four Greek songs accompanied by Leonidas Zafiris on bouzouki and Fotis Tubanos on guitar. Manos Hadzidakis’s “The North Star” gained a haunting quality in the large church but there were problems. The acoustics swallowed the music and prevented the crisp chords that we want to hear from the bouzouki and the guitar. Loizos’s “Lullaby” gained a dream-like quality from the acoustics. The audience responded enthusiastically to Ms Chris’s performance.

As is de rigueur in a Christmas concert, the audience joined in for a couple of the carols. A very civilized evening but let’s get to the real complaint. With all those cornets present and the chorus where in the world was the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Messiah? Even a Yuletide Celebration should have it. And as for “Silent Night,” it was only added as an encore. You can see the problem!!

Needless to say, my complaints are registered as a possible point-getter from the Keeper of the Pearly Gates just in case I am brought to task for complaining about something that I thoroughly enjoyed.