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'Mary Poppins' alights on stage at 2 p.m. today in Livermore

Tri-Valley Rep presenting beloved nanny in delightful musical

The Banks household is in chaos. Mr. Banks worries about money. Mrs. Banks is concerned about her place in society. And the children are so naughty that it's not funny anymore.

Enter Mary Poppins.

Tri-Valley Repertory Theatre's upcoming "Mary Poppins the Musical," onstage July 16-31 in Livermore, has been dubbed a "practically perfect musical." Based on the classic 1964 Disney film and books by P.L. Travers about the extraordinary British nanny, the musical opened on Broadway in 2006 and received nominations for seven Tony Awards.

"I was lucky enough to have an apartment in New York, so I did get to see it," said Daren A.C. Carollo, who is directing the Tri-Valley Rep production.

The Broadway offering was an extravaganza of special effects, he noted, but his production will focus on the characters, the Banks family -- parents George and Winifred, and their ill-behaved children Jane and Michael.

"You are really going to care about the people, in our production," Carollo said. "The heart of the story is the same."

The parents are at their wits end when their nanny suddenly quits, but then along comes Mary Poppins, who bonds with the children using patience, kindness -- and a bit of magic.

"She turns everyone into the best aspects of themselves; not just Jane and Michael learn from her but also George and Winifred," Carollo said.

Mary Poppins does fly and she does pull magical items from her carpet bag. As always with Tri-Valley Rep, musical numbers, choreographed by Kelly Cooper, will delight and inspire. Music director is Jo Anne Fosselman, and vocal direction is by Sierra Dee.

"I look forward to a very lush orchestra, a very fun and playful scenic and lighting design," Carollo said. "I look forward to people having a smile on their faces for almost two hours."

Carollo is with a professional equity company, but he loves his work in community theater with "people who are passionate about the arts" and whose enjoyment of the endeavor is their compensation. He has produced in New York; locally, he also directed Tri-Valley Rep's "Hairspray" and "The Sound of Music."

"I have a great love for ('Mary Poppins' producer) Kathy Breedveld and the people of Tri-Valley Rep," Carollo said.

"This show features some of the best Bay Area actors," he added. "Rachel Powers, who plays Mary Poppins, is a mother so she has all of the maternal aspects."

Venis Goodman is making his Bay Area debut as George Banks. Alexis Rodgers plays Winifred Banks. Robert Lopez is Mary Poppins' friend Bert.

The production uses two casts of children: Emily Joy Kessel and Juliana Morrow as Jane; JD Cerruti and Elliana McKean as Michael.

"One of my favorite things is, kids are so brutally honest," Carollo said with a laugh. "They can read exactly what I'm thinking and are often the first to call me out. I love being around the kids and watching them create these iconic roles."

He recommends families listen to the music ahead of time, if children aren't familiar with it. Musical numbers include "Spoonful of Sugar," "Step in Time," "Jolly Holiday," "Precision and Order," "Feed the Birds," "Let's Go Fly a Kite," and "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious."

"'Feed the Birds,' interestingly enough, was Walt Disney's favorite piece in history," Carollo said.

Carollo moved to the Bay Area in 1999, and this is his 56th show as a director. His enthusiasm for "Mary Poppins" could not be greater.

"She's a very strong woman, which I'm proud to represent in American musical theater," he said. "I want the audience to come in with an open heart and follow the Banks family from falling apart to falling together."

Magical nanny

What: "Mary Poppins the Musical"

Who: Tri-Valley Repertory Theatre

When: 8 p.m. July 22, 23, 30; 2 p.m. July 17, 24, 30, 31

Where: Bankhead Theater, 2400 First St., Livermore

Tickets: $25-$43; visit www.trivalleyrep.org; call 373-6800; or go to theater box office.

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