Play: Mary Poppins
Group: Touring Company
Venue: Fox Theatre, 527 North Grand Blvd.
Dates: Through August 30
Tickets: From $28 to $75; contact 314-534-1111 or www.metrotix.com
Story: George and Winifred Banks have just seen their latest nanny depart in a huff from their London household, thanks to the incorrigible behavior of their children Jane and Michael. While they ponder their next attempt at labor relations, the tykes write their own job description, which banker George promptly throws into the fireplace. From the soot of the burned note mysteriously arrives one Mary Poppins, an extremely self-confident nanny who promptly takes over the child-rearing chores.
George, a pent-up man who is emotionally distant from his family, encounters problems at the bank by his refusal to loan money to a greedy businessman while instead lending funds to an idealistic entrepreneur. Winifred, a former actress, searches for happiness in her cloistered existence as a wife and mother in the stark Edwardian times. Meanwhile, Mary introduces the children to a variety of colorful folks who expand their understanding of human nature, such as the affable jack-of-all-trades Bert, the “Bird Lady” and Mrs. Corry, proprietor of a “conversation shop.” When George is suspended by the bank for his seemingly odd financing decisions, and the children rebel against Mary’s advice, the family is tested on how it will cope with unexpected stress and unwelcome tension.
Highlights: The musical version of Mary Poppins is a hybrid of the classic children’s books by P.L. Travers and the 1964 movie by Walt Disney that garnered a whopping 13 Oscar nominations and five awards. The musical opened in London in late 2004 and on Broadway in 2006, where it has passed 1,000 performances. The touring company, which features original Broadway stars Ashley Brown in the title role and Gavin Lee as Bert, is a dazzling, totally entertaining collaboration between producers Cameron Mackintosh and Thomas Schumacher of Disney Productions.
The show blends the Academy Award-winning music and lyrics by Richard Sherman and Robert Sherman with several new and engaging tunes by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe and a book by Julian Fellowes. Richard Eyre directs everything in eye-popping, briskly paced fashion, so that the production’s length (about 2 hours and 45 minutes) seems to fly by as effortlessly as Mary and her signature umbrella. What’s most impressive is that Mary Poppins is spectacular without being a ‘spectacle.’ There isn’t a hint of excess, as everything seems carefully choreographed to contribute to the overall presentation, and the result is first-rate entertainment.
Other Info: Fellowes’ book delivers a storyline that is surprisingly dark and edgy, enhancing the mystique of the show. Meticulous sets designed by Bob Crowley resulted in the production’s lone Tony Award, effectively using panoramic backdrops with handsome period pieces that deliver a stunning look immeasurably accentuated by Howard Harrison’s rainbow of explosive hues that light the proceedings in cunningly colorful fashion.
Crowley’s dapper costumes further enhance the style, while co-director Matthew Bourne’s choreography is absolutely exhilarating. Two numbers in particular radiate in resonance, the wildly appealing Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious in Mrs. Corry’s Conversation Shop in Act I and the tap-dancing sensation Step in Time in Act II, which features a cavalcade of crisply choreographed chimney sweeps and a wall walk by Bert that is mesmerizing.
Brown is immensely appealing as Mary Poppins, delivering her lines and tunes in consistently amusing fashion. When asked for an explanation by Mr. Banks, she replies crisply, “I never explain anything,” and then cocks her head and marches off to her next chore. Her superior attitude transcends the entire show, counterbalanced nicely by the limber Lee as the amiable and upbeat Bert, who bridges the various scenes with snippets of the sweetly melancholic tune Chim Chim Cheree to great effect.
There’s excellent supporting work by Q. Smith as the mystical Mrs. Corry, Mary VanArsdel as the kindly Bird Woman, Valerie Boyle as the blustery maid Mrs. Brill, Andrew Keenan-Bolger as the ‘collapsible’ servant Robertson Ay, Karl Kenzler as the repressed and dysfunctional George, Megan Osterhaus as the stifled Winifred, Ellen Harvey as the overly strict nanny Miss Andrew and Troy Edward Bowles as the gymnastic statue Neleus. The part of Jane is alternated by Abigail Droeger and Aida Neitenbach, while Christopher Flaim and Justin Hall rotate the role of Michael.
James Dodgson is the highly efficient musical director, David Caddick is music supervisor and William David Brohn provides the orchestrations for the lively musicians who provide robust embellishment for the myriad toe-tapping numbers. Really, the story is as much for adults as for kids and this Mary Poppins is an immeasurable treat for the eyes and ears and heart. Chim Chim Cheree!
Rating: A 5 on a scale of 1-to-5.