England's original super nanny is back. The touring production of Disney's "Mary Poppins," at the Cadillac Palace Theatre through Nov. 6, is practically perfect in every way.
Much of the show is thankfully carried on the capable shoulders of Rachel Wallace as the titular character.
I was one of the few people who wasn't thrilled with the original Broadway Mary (Ashley Brown, who also originated the role in the first national tour that kicked off in Chicago two and a half years ago). Brown's Mary was a bit too prickly, rigid and proper for my taste.
Wallace's take on the character manages to restore that devilish twinkle of the movie Mary without Wallace simple emulating Julie Andrews outright. Wallace owns the role. At times she is sarcastic, nurturing, romantic and funny. When she takes to the skies for her grand, final exit, Wallace has so endeared herself to you that you truly hate to see her go.
As Burt, the jack of all trades, narrator and lucky chimney sweep, Nicolas Dromard is both charming and entertaining. One only wished he matched Wallace in physical presence and star power. In both the original Broadway production and the initial tour, Burt and Mary were equals on every level. Dromand's dancing in "Step In Time" is still amazing, but things are slightly askew here. Still, when you're acting opposite a woman who can fly over the heads of the audience thanks to a magical umbrella (and some serious feats of stage engineering), I suppose it's easy to be upstaged.
The supporting cast are also superb. As the over-worked housekeeper Mrs. Brill and her none-to-bright but eager underling Roberson Ay, Rachel Izen and Dennis Moench find some fine, funny moments. Janet MacEwan brings some much-needed dignity and humanity to her role as the Bird Lady such that her rendition of "Feed the Birds" truly soars. Q. Smith, as the much sterner rival nanny Miss Andrew, is perfect in her own way as the polor opposity of Mary. Her character's story arc may still be too dark for little ones, though.
Also making the most of their roles are Blythe Wilson (Winifred Banks) and Laird Mackintosh (George Banks). Wilson's Winifred is trapped by the narrowly-defined gender roles of the early 20th century and yet we see just enough strength and wisdom beneath the surface.
Mackintosh's take on the family patriarch is one of a high-strung, over-worked and under-paid bank manager who puts people before profits, thus threatening his own livelihood. In an era of housing foreclosures and "too big to fail," it seems to particularly resonate. Ethical bankers who put people first seem to be even rarer these days than magical nannies that arrive by umbrella.
"Mary Poppins" rungs through Nov. 6 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph. Tickets, $25-$90. Call (800) 775-2000; broadwayworldinchicago.com.