Friday, December 01, 2006

Not Quite Practically Perfect, But Good Enough

Cameron Mackintosh, the mega-producer of such hits as "The Phantom of the Opera," "Cats," and "Les Miserables," and Disney, a powerful producer in its own right with "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Lion King," joined forces to co-produce the stage production of "Mary Poppins." It was sure to be a blockbuster, but it could have very easily become every stereotype of a big-budget, over-the-top corporate musical. The results turned out to be pleasantly surprising.

"Mary Poppins," directed by Richard Eyre, opened on Nov. 16 at the New Amsterdam Theatre, former home of the "Lion King" (now moved to the Minskoff Theatre). It originally opened in London two years ago and is based on the Disney musical film as well as the book by P.L. Travers.

For those unfamiliar with the story, Jane and Michael Banks are two well-intentioned children who get into mischief while trying to catch the attention of their father. They have trouble holding onto their nannies, much to the frustration of their parents, until Mary Poppins arrives to discipline them with the help of magic and sing-alongs. The musical is slightly darker than the film, with the marital troubles of Mr. and Mrs. Banks playing a more central role and the inclusion of a backstory about Mr. Banks childhood with a cruel nanny.

The star of the show is the Banks' house on Cherry Tree Lane, brilliantly designed by Bob Crowley with intricate details and a roof that rises to reveal the childrens' room and falls for the chimney sweep scenes.

Ashley Brown, plays the other star, Mary Poppins. She could never replace Julie Andrews, but the girl can sing. Her gentle, sweet voice is never forced or shrieky.

Even Brown was not as dynamic as Gavin Lee, direct from the London cast as Bert. As lanky and silly as Dick Van Dyke, he steals the show when he climbs the walls and dances upside-down in the toe-tapping number, "Step in Time."

Delaney Moro played Jane and Alexander Scheitinger played Michael in the Saturday matinee I attended (three children rotate in each role) and it was refreshing to see adorable children who could sing on key and act naturally.

Many of the classic songs by Richard and Robert Sherman, such as "Chim Chim Cher-ee," ""Feed the Birds," and of course, "A Spoonful of Sugar" were adapted for the show, and new ones were written by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. The enchanting lullaby "Stay Awake" and the political "Sister Suffragette" were inexplicably left out, as was the character of Uncle Albert and the amusing "I Love to Laugh." One would think that the scene of characters floating in the air due to laughter would be a sure crowd-pleaser that Disney and Mackintosh would not have been able to resist.

Although most of the numbers were successfully brought to life with Bob Crowley's colorful costumes and Matthew Bourne's eye-popping choreography, "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" fell flat. The clever lyrics were changed and the number took place in a strange shop run by Mrs. Corry, who does not appear in any other scene and has nothing to do with the rest of the show. The scene then unfolds into a lengthy spelling lesson.

The new numbers do fit in nicely with the originals. The best and most interesting is "Temper, Temper," in which the dolls come to life and rebel against the trouble, adding a much-needed aspect of creepiness amidst all the sugar.

Children and adults are awed by the final moments when Mary Poppins flies away on her umbrella. "Mary Poppins" may not be perfect, or even practically so, but it has enough jaw-dropping moments to amuse even the most cynical theatre-goers.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey everyone, I'm new! ..... just made my profile. Everyone says I need to share

something so I Just thought I'd let you know a place where I made an extra $800 last month!
Click here to find out more!
Be sure to check out my new page. :)