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A practically operatic ‘Mary Poppins’ soars at Aurora’s Paramount Theatre

The Paramount Theatre production of “Mary Poppins” may be billed as a musical, but in terms of the sheer overall scale of its staging, the vocal prowess and dramatic punch of its large cast, the “glorious Technicolor” splendor of its multimedia design, the full-bodied power of its orchestra, and the extravagant engineering of its flight sequences (with a track that spans the entire theater, from proscenium to upper balcony) it comes a whole lot closer to grand opera. Once again, the Paramount has not only exceeded expectations, but far out-distanced much of what you will see on Broadway.

Directed and choreographed by Rachel Rockwell (whose previous productions include “Annie,” “In the Heights” and “42nd Street” at the Paramount and “Brigadoon” at the Goodman Theatre), this “Mary Poppins” is a superb mix of grand spectacle and familiar songs. And while it never shrinks from the essentially dark story it spins, it also never fails to elicit all the essential laughs and sense of magic.

‘MARY POPPINS’

Highly Recommended

When: Through Jan. 4, 2015

Where: Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora

Tickets: $41-$54

Info: (630) 896-6666; www.ParamountAurora.com

Run time: 2 hours and 35 minutes with one intermission

Based on P.L. Travers’ stories, and the Walt Disney film – with the original music and lyrics of those peerless brothers, Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman embellished by a Cameron Mackintosh update finessed in collaboration with Julian Fellowes (book) and songwriters George Stiles and Anthony Drewe — this is the story of a deeply dysfunctional Edwardian English family that needs a “practically perfect” nanny to help get it back on track.

You know the story, of course, but it is spun with particular gravity and zest here, with anideally starchy Emily Rohm, who possesses a coloratura soprano of great beauty, as the enigmatic, no-nonsense title character, and Matt Crowle, as her loyal friend, Bert, the fleet, acrobatic, rich-voiced chimney sweep and Jack-of-all-trades who clearly is smitten by Mary, but also respectful of her elusiveness.

The working class pragmatism and style of these two is juxtaposed with the Banks family, whose hold on the upper middle class is precarious. George Banks (Michael Lindner, whose marvelous transformation here rivals that of Ebenezer Scrooge) is a banker whose obsession with making money and maintaining status has shut him off from his wife, Winifred (the lovely, wonderfully natural Cory Goodrich), a former actress, and most crucially from his two children, Jane (played by Peyton Shaffer at Sunday’s opening, who alternates with Eloise Lushina) and Michael (Charlie Babbo, alternating with Jake Helm), who crave his attention and affection.

George Banks was raised by a hateful battle-axe of a nanny, Miss Andrew (Holly Stauder, who plays several roles expertly, gives a hilarious, clarion-voiced rendition of “Brimstone and Treacle”). Mary Poppins is a far more enlightened caretaker — crisp and demanding, but beguiling in her particular way, and she saves the Banks children, and their parents. There are other fine turns by Glory Kissel (as the Banks’ comically beleaguered housekeeper), Carl Draper (as her bumbling young assistant Robertson Ay), William Carlos Angulo (as Neleus, one of five amazingly immobile park statues), Marilynn Bogetich (as the Bird Woman), and an exuberant ensemble.

Rockwell brings her choreographic magic to all the big numbers including the full-cast “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” the breezy “A Spoonful of Sugar,” and the big chimney-top tap dance number, “Step in Time.” But the entire stage “dances” throughout this production with its gorgeous, moveable sets by Kevin Depinet overlaid with Mike Tutaj’s masterful projections and Greg Hofmann’s exquisite lighting, and enlivened further by Theresa Ham’s period-meets-toy shelf costumes.

The lush sound of the orchestra, led by music director Tom Vendafreddo, immensely enhances the pleasures of this production, bringing heat and excitement to even the grimmest day in that house on Cherry Tree Lane.