The Disney production of Mary Poppins on Broadway plus Cameron Mackintosh equals supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. Based on the classic 1964 Disney movie that won an Oscar for Julie Andrews in the title role, the musical that has been imported from London’s West End draws much of its dark magic from P.L. Travers’ original novel and is even better on Broadway. Here is a stylish vibrant family entertainment that promises to please not only the children but the adults as well.
With an eye toward commercial ventures to attract children Disney has given us a wide range of musicals over the past decade and is changing the face of Broadway with the aid of their endless resources and marketing wisdom. There is their inspirational long running production of Beauty and the Beast that now plays all over the country. There was the pop musical Aida aimed at teenagers and based on the music of Elton John. Last season they miscalculated with Tarzan, that despite being dreadful, is still managing to draw a steady audience, and of course there is their artistically brilliant, mega successful masterpiece, The Lion King. Now we get Mary Poppins that with the aid of the brilliant Cameron Mackintosh looks to be another long running winner.
Mr. Mackintosh is unquestionably one of the most outstanding producers here and in London. Theatre is a collaboration and Mackintosh’s unique vision has given Poppins a gifted array of talent that is decidedly sparkling. Every element of the evening blends with an animated vivaciousness that lifts your spirits as easily as Mary Poppins takes off in flight, sailing to the upper balcony at the end of the evening.
The brisk staging by Richard Eyre and co-director Matthew Bourne looks and sounds smart, but it is the clever choreography by Stephen Mear that allows the evening to soar. The dynamic dance numbers energize the entire show with a witty spell that seems to inspire the performers.
The intelligent story written by Julian Fellowes has sympathetic characters and follows a nanny (Ashley Brown) with supernatural powers, who comes to 17 Cherry Lane in Edwardian London to care for the out of control children (Katherine Doherty and Henry Hodges) of Mr. and Mrs. Banks (Rebecca Luker and Daniel Jenkins). The children have been neglected by their workaholic father and their emotional mother. The nanny, Mary Poppins, who restores order to their lives by teaching them to optimistically work hard and to be obedient, turns out to be a good witch. She magically disappears only to return again to magically fly off at the evening’s end when her work is complete in a special effect that is just dazzling.
Brown as Mary Poppins sings, dances, and acts beautifully. If her performance displays only two basic qualities that shift rather abruptly, it doesn’t seem to matter much as she is a totally winning presence. Gavin Lee, who originated his role in London as the good natured Cockney chimney sweep, Bert, is delightful. He helps Mary in her chores with the children, and his dance number where he walks up the wall and on the ceiling is one of the evening’s highlights.
Richard and Robert Sherman songs from the original film that inlcude “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” “Feed the Birds,” and “A Spoonful of Sugar,” are animated marvelously. The new songs by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe feature Mary’s funny inspiration to self-love, “Practically Perfect,” and the stirring “Anything Can Happen.” The toys dispense some dark lessons in tough love with the slyly amusing “Temper, Temper.” The new songs blend so beautifully with the Grammy Award winning originals that it is difficult to tell them apart.
Bob Crowley has designed the bright costumes and exceptional sets. The complex design for the banks home moves from downstairs to upstairs and is just terrific.
All the talented performers in the supporting roles are excellent, but Ruth Gottschall, as George Banks former nanny, is a scene stealing standout.
At two hours and forty five minutes the evening is a tad long, but still great fun.
gordin & christiano
Originally Published in Dan’s Papers
Mary Poppins opened at the New Amsterdam Theatre (Broadway at West 42nd Street) on November 16, 2006. Tickets are available by calling Ticketmaster at 212-307-4747 or at the box office.