When you think about it, an iconic character who is "nearly perfect in every way" must be a tough nut to crack from an acting standpoint.
So it is with Mary Poppins, the titular enchanting nanny who magically pops into a house at 17 Cherry Tree Lane, London, to fix what's ailing an unhappy family.
Just about everyone else in this Disney movie-turned-Broadway-musical has some kind of character arc. The blustering patriarch Mr. Banks (Carson Nattrass) is obliged to consider whether his work ethic is ultimately damaging to his family. His ex-actress wife (Laura Olafson) comes to terms with the deeper implications of her role as Mrs. Banks. Even their mischievous children, Jane and Michael (charmingly played by Noah Luis and Jenesa Lee), are taught to see beyond appearances.
Not Mary. She exits (mysteriously) exactly as she enters (mysteriously), consistently demonstrating the same unflappable poise throughout.
Taking the role immortalized by Julie Andrews in the 1964 film, Winnipeg actress Paula Potosky absolutely nails it. Her flawlessly lilting soprano doesn't hurt. Her stage presence (augmented, admittedly, by her aeronautical ability to exit stage up) is commanding.
But in her performance, Potosky captures the imagination by enjoying the sheer contradictory nature of Ms. Poppins, simultaneously magical and matter-of-fact.
This is a woman whose posture and crisp diction are all no-nonsense.
Then she sings Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.
Potosky overcomes Mary's abbreviated dramatic curve through sheer joy of performance.
Taking Potosky's lead, this Rainbow production fires on all cylinders.
Going by Thursday evening's preview performance, director Ann Hodges has orchestrated a maddeningly complicated and potentially chaotic production and has it running like clockwork.
That is not to say the play doesn't have a pulsing, organic heart to it. Donna Fletcher (as the "Bird Lady") and her heartfelt rendition of Feed the Birds lays to rest any notion this is merely a calculated Disney money-spinner.
In fact, this rendition is deliberately different from the film. Adapted by Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park, Downton Abbey) from both the film and the source novels by Pamela Lyndon Travers, the musical takes enjoyable liberties, including the addition of an anti-Mary Poppins, the cruel and spiteful nanny Mrs. Andrew (played with malevolent glee by Rainbow mainstay Brenda Gorlick) whose song Brimstone and Treacle is a calculated counter-attack to A Spoonful of Sugar.
Nattrass, another Rainbow mainstay, makes the most of a plum role as the proper pater who entertainingly explodes after being so tightly wound through much of the play.
As Bert, the jack-of-all-trades, Stephen Roberts functions more as a Greek chorus and less as Mary's chaste love interest. While Roberts's Cockney accent hews closer to Dick Van Dyke than, say, Bob Hoskins, he compensates with some gymnastic dance moves that call attention to the first-rate choreography by Marc Kimelman, especially in the rooftop show-stopper Step in Time.
But above all, Mary Poppins is a showcase for the Broadway-worthy Potosky. She soars. Sometimes literally.