‘Mary Poppins’ – family fun for the festive season at San Francisco Playhouse

Mary Poppins (El Beh) arrives at Banks household, to the surprise of Jane Banks (Grace Hutton), Michael Banks (Billy Hutton) and Mrs. Bill (Marie Shell)

For the Festive Season, the San Francisco Playhouse presents a popular family musical – Mary Poppins – the story of the “practically perfect” nanny who brings order, a touch of magic, and more than a dose of common sense to the London household of George and Winifred Banks. Susi Damilano directs this production for the Playhouse, music direction is by Katie Colman and choreography is by Kimberly Richards.

While partly based on the 1964 Disney film, this musical is not simply a stage-based repeat of it, but an original musical which owes much to the stories of Australian-born British writer P L Travers – who apparently never forgave Disney for its interpretation of her work.

Mary Poppins (El Beh) and Bert (Wiley Naman Strasser) during a Jolly Holiday with other park strollers (Rudy Guerrero and Sophia LaPaglia)

The show does however have more than a sprinkling of Broadway glitter about it, with original music and lyrics by Richard M Sherman and Robert B Sherman, and a book by Julian Fellowes (he of Downton Abbey fame). George Stiles and Anthony Drewe provided additional music and lyrics, and the co-creator was Cameron Mackintosh, British theatrical producer with a roll-call of fabulous musicals to his name – Cats, Oliver!, Les Misérables, Phantom of the Opera and Miss Saigon among them. Mary Poppins received nominations for nine Olivier and seven Tony Awards, including for Best Musical.

When Mary Poppins arrives at the Banks household, the bad behavior of the children, Jane and Michael, has already been responsible for the departure of a series of nannies, but Mary – with her jack-of-all-trades friend, Bert – takes the children on a series of magical adventures, and introduces not only them, but their parents too, to the importance of valuing each other, as well as the little things in life that can make such a difference to relationships.

Mary Poppins (El Beh) offers Winifred Banks (Abby Haug*), Michael Banks (Billy Hutton), and Jane Banks (Grace Hutton) a ‘spoonful of sugar’

The handbook from the original production points out that it’s the small acts of kindness that give us “joy, satisfaction and meaning”, as illustrated in the song Feed the Birds. The line “Tuppence a bag” – according to songwriter Richard Sherman – “has nothing to do with tuppence or bread crumbs. It’s about the fact that it doesn’t take much to give love, that it costs very little to make a difference to other people’s lives.”

The San Francisco Playhouse production stars El Beh in the title role. Based in the city, El – theatre artist, performer, musician, singer, composer, mover, and educator – featured in the KQED Arts’ Women to Watch series, which featured 20 local women who are making names for themselves in the creative arts. El has previously been seen on the Playhouse stage in productions which include Into the Woods and Stupid F*****g Bird.

Bert (Wiley Naman Strasser), Mary Poppins (El Beh) and Ensemble

Bert is played by Bay Area actor, dancer, singer, and musician, Wiley Naman Strasser, making a return visit to the Playhouse. Having trained with Alonzo King LINES Ballet, he was last seen at the Playhouse in Colossal in 2016, and has worked with Aurora Theatre Company, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, The Cutting Ball Theater, Hope Mohr Dance, and the Los Angeles Theatre Center, among others.

Ryan Drummond, who takes the role of George Banks, is a seasoned actor, voice actor, singer, clown and comedian – probably most widely heard as the voice of Sonic the Hedgehog! He is a frequent guest on the Playhouse stage, one of his most memorable recent roles having been that of Georges in La Cage aux Folles.

The Banks Family enjoys a moment. From left: Michael Banks (David Rukin), Jane Banks (Ruth Keith), Winifred Banks (Abby Haug), and George Banks (Ryan Drummond

Abby Haug – who plays Winifred Banks – was most recently seen at the Playhouse in Sunday in the Park with George. She, too, appeared in La Cage aux Folles, and in last year’s A Christmas Story, the Musical. Other Bay Area productions in which Abbey has played include No, No, Nanette, Baker Street, The Boys from Syracuse, Mary Poppins (for Hillbarn Theatre) and A Comedy of Errors.

The Banks children, Jane and Michael, are played by Grace Hutton and Billy Hutton, alternating with Ruth Keith and David Rukin.

The San Francisco Playhouse production of Mary Poppins runs until January 12th, 2019. For more information and tickets, visit sfplayhouse.org.


Information sourced from:

San Francisco Playhouse program notes

Broadway Musical Home

Music Theatre International

ArtsPreview home page

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