It's no wonder Victorian London was covered with a thick layer of sooty fog, considering all the chimney sweeps ever did was tap dance the days away with a couple of lonely children and a haughty nanny.
At least, that's the impression you get by watching Mary Poppins at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatre during its standout, second-act production number, "Step in Time."
See also: Actors Ready to Fly in Chanhassen's Mary Poppins[jump]
The production, now a month into its long spring and summer run, has oodles of charm that more often than not hide the deficiencies of a Frankenstein-monster-like show. The stage musical has been assembled from bits of the Disney movie and the original books, with a hodgepodge of the original songs, ones somewhat adapted into a new form, and ones written by an entirely different songwriting team that just don't have the same charms as the originals.
Toss in a book from Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes that doesn't so much underscore the value of family as hammer it into your head with a rusty, 12-inch spike, and you have a recipe for something more annoying than entertaining.
Michael Brindisi's strong, energetic staging pushes most of those fears away, as does the terrific cast, led by the always-great Anne Michels in the title role.
The musical follows a familiar path. The Banks children are willful, headstrong, and pretty much raised by a succession of nannies. It takes the arrival of the somewhat mystical Mary Poppins to open up the world to them, not just the magical wonders of the imagination, but the power in helping others and being kind.
It takes some time, but that message eventually spreads to their parents, who are either lost in work like Mr. Banks (played by Chanhassen favorite Keith Rice) or in being socially acceptable like Mrs. Banks (Janet Hayes Trow).
Poppins employs plenty of magic, and the omni-occupational Bert (Mark King) often comes along for the ride.
Chanhassen doesn't have the same offstage tricks as a lot of other theaters, so there is no way our nanny can fly around the stage. But what the production lacks in trickery it makes up with in energy. The fleet-footed company blazes through a string of high-grade production numbers that add some fresh context to familiar tunes. (In other words, Bert doesn't have to dance with any penguins.)
It's not practically perfect, but Mary Poppins is a lot of fun.
IF YOU GO:
Mary Poppins Through August 29 Chanhassen Dinner Theatres 501 W. 78th St., Chanhassen $51-$69 (show only); $62-$84 (with dinner) For tickets and more information, call 952-934-1525 or visit online.