Saturday night, Gina, Gator and I saw the national tour of Mary Poppins at the Cadillac Palace.
We were also joined by 1,300 children and their passive parents*.
I have an extreme fondness for Mary Poppins (case in point: see item no. 21 here). Julie Andrews makes the film for me. As far as I’m concerned, she IS Mary Poppins. Now, Ashley Brown isn’t Julie Andrews, obviously, but she does a more than admirable job. She sings effortlessly, exudes confidence in spades (after all, Mary Poppins’ shit don’t stink you know), and keeps things crisp and fun.
The Banks family plays a core role in this musical, with Poppins there to help mend their domestic issues. Megan Osterhaus is a vulnerable and loving Mrs. Banks. The young actors playing Jane and Micheal (I don’t have the Playbill in front of me, so I’m not sure who played them Sat. night) are fantastic. They’re onstage nearly the entire evening, delivering heartfelt performances that resonate to the the back of the house. Karl Kenzler’s George does a good job revealing the dormant softie inside his gruff exterior. A very good cast.
But really, the physical production is the star of this show — probably one of the most impressive sets I’ve seen for a tour. The three-story Banks house used on Broadway has been rethought into a giant pop-up that opens up to reveal a Mary Shepard-inspired rendering of the household’s interior. It’s an impressive piece of scenery. (Watch this video, at 1:50, to see the set in action.)
I’ve never read the P. L. Travers book series — my only Mary Poppins experience is courtesy of Walt Disney. Disney’s Poppins was the forebearer of the English childhood stories we’ve come to know in modern cinema, such as Lemony Snickets and the Tim Burton remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The stage version amps up the creepy and bizarre factor — apparently lifting subplots from the original Poppins book series — with nude, dancing statues, random magical Jamaican women, creepy life-sized vengeful toys, and evil nannies (the wonderful Ellen Harvey as the wicked Miss Andrews — a complete scene stealer!! LOVED her.)
(EDIT: I just found this blog post which does a lovely job explaining how the stage version reconciles the movie and the book series as sources for its plot and design.)
Everything was colorful, bright and very busy. From where we were sitting, I wasn’t sure where to direct my attention. Sensory overload. The dance numbers, such as “Step in Time,” were certainly large and energetic, but unfocused. Bert, played by the charming and dexterous Gavin Lee, danced on the ceiling! Fun, but random. Also, Mary and Bert’s relationship has always puzzled me, and this production didn’t bother to address this. Are they lovers? Siblings? Co-conspirators? What?
The show is rather long-winded, with an ending that seemed unsure of itself. How many finale songs can one show have?
But the end! When Mary Poppins flies over the audience! I was so happy! The kids “ooh”ed and “ahh”ed while Ashley Brown looked down, beaming. It was a beautiful moment, worth the ticket price alone.
(*I’m all for exposing kids to live theatre. But parents, please note that taking your four year old to a 2.5 hour show that starts at 8:00 p.m. probably isn’t the best idea. They will squirm and kick the back of my head, and probably scream. A lot.)