Joi Taylor, who has been the driving force behind Kudzu Playhouse for the past several years, openly acknowledged during the show’s recent, successful two-weekend run of “Mary Poppins” that the show was perhaps the small theatre company’s most ambitious production to date.
Audiences packed into performances at the Hernando Performing Arts Center the past two weekends. The production wrapped up with a Sunday matinee performance.
“When we decided to stage the beloved story of Mary Poppins over a year ago, we knew it was going to be a massive undertaking, requiring a lot of very passionate and dedicated people,” Taylor said in the foreword to the show’s program. “It was not long after we announced the show that I started receiving emails, texts and phone calls from all sorts of people, asking to be involved, which was a tremendous reassurance that we could make the “magic” happen. This is a big show, after all, and we’re not just talking about the flying effects, which are really fun, by the way.”
“What I love most about this musical adaptation is that it takes the joy and whimsy of the iconic Disney movie and weaves it together with the beautiful messages in P.L. Travers’ multiple books about Mary Poppins and the Banks family.”
Taylor said a great deal of time and preparation went into the production, from the painstakingly choreographed dance moves to intricate set maneuvers and scene changes.
During Sunday’s matinee performance, Taylor singled out Russell Lehman, who will soon be traveling about the Celebrity Cruise lines internationally as part of his evolving theatrical career.
Lehman choreographed “Mary Poppins” as well as starred as “Bert” and designed the set as well as the special effects, which literally had the young star “dancing on the ceiling” as well as the rooftops of Edwardian England.
Of course, Mary Poppins magically “flew” in the skies over the English countryside, kitchen cupboards came to life with dancing teacups and drawers and audience members were treated to an assortment of “magical occurrences” in keeping with the production’s theme.
Karis Chambliss, in her debut Kudzu role, charmed audiences in her delightful performance as Lady Jane Banks and her counterpart Peyton Gillis was disarmingly clever and witty as Master Michael Banks.
As for Mary Poppins, Desiree Albonetti was spectacular. Simply fantastic. Albonetti truly embodied the role, which on Broadway and in film was portrayed by the legendary Julie Andrews.
Veteran actress Kelly Stevenson nearly stole the show as “Miss Andrew,” the nanny with the nasty disposition, played with superbly sinister savoir faire.
All in all, a flawless, sensational production that already seems to have the lock on “Best Musical” in Allie Award competition next January. Director Keith Salter assembled a top-notch cast. The entire production was seamless and captivating from start to finish.
Taylor takes pride in the fact that Kudzu Playhouse seems to be coming of age.
“Since its beginning, Kudzu Playhouse has taken pride in producing high-quality dramatic entertainment using local talent,” Taylor said. “Although it has struggled throughout its history and has been plagued by a lack of money and performance space, Kudzu Playhouse has a long and distinguished history. Kudzu continues today to present quality, live community theater that entertains and delights its audiences which ensuring the future of the performing arts for generations to come.”
This article originally appeared in the DeSoto Times-Tribune on July 31, 2017. Original article can be found here