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USF’s ‘Mary Poppins’ is a jolly holiday of a musical

Practically perfect in every way.

That’s not just a description of everyone’s favorite nanny but the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s production of the beloved musical that bears her name: “Mary Poppins.”

Truth be told, I’ve been wary of this stage version, having lost my heart to the 1964 movie (and the one-and-only Julie Andrews’ Oscar-winning portrayal) at age 9, when my grandmother took my sister and me to see it.

But USF’s production proves a different kind of delight, demonstrating live theater’s power to captivate — and capture the imagination of — children of all ages.

Making a splendid festival debut, director Karen Azenberg fills the Randall L. Jones Theatre — not just the stage but the aisles, the balconies, even above the audience’s collective heads — with enchanting theatricality.

Not that she does it alone, mind you. Choreographer Lenny Daniel, music director Helen Gregory, set designer Jo Winiarski, costume designer Brenda Van der Wiel and lighting designer Kirk Bookman — to say nothing of the performers — all play major roles in conjuring “Mary Poppin’s” magical realm.

It’s a different one than the movie’s, edgier and more relevant to our own troubled times than the cartoon-infused Disney version — which, of course, Poppins creator P.L. Travers despised.

In adapting Travers’ tales and the movie’s screenplay, “Downton Abbey” creator Julian Fellowes transforms the Edwardian-era Banks family into a decidedly dysfunctional one, with the antics of adorable, incorrigible Jane and Michael (the adorable, utterly delightful Mila Belle Howells and Andrew Barrick) driving away multiple nannies.

Good thing Mary Poppins (Elizabeth Broadhurst, spit-spot-on in every way) turns up to set things right with a spoonful of sugar and a little help from Bert (jaunty, genial Eddie Lopez), whose various occupations — from street artist to chimney sweep — provide a springboard for multiple marvelous adventures.

Not exactly the same adventures as in the movie — just as songwriters George Stiles and Anthony Drewe add new songs and revise Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman’s Oscar-winning score.

But they’re still “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” — and so is this jolly holiday of a musical.

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