note: entire contents copyright 2011 by Sheila Barth
The spectacular, eye-popping North America touring company production of 2006 Broadway extravaganza “Mary Poppins” is making audiences happy, without a spoonful of sugar, and in a most delightful way.
This show has everything for everyone. Most especially charming are multi-award winning brothers Richard and Robert Sherman’s music and lyrics, who, with their award- winning young British partners, George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, have adapted some numbers and added memorable new songs to this happy-go-lucky, fanciful production, including Mary’s credo that she’s “Practically Perfect”. Drewe and Stiles have enchanted multi-generational audiences with their scores of “Honk!,” “Just So,” and others. “In “Mary Poppins,” they weave magic between the Shermans’ much beloved, classic hits that have become musical mainstays since the 1964 Disney movie starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke swept the Academy Awards.
This large, energetic ensemble breathes new life into beloved standards like “Chim Chim Cheree,” “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” the oft-reprised “Spoonful of Sugar” and “Jolly Holiday,” while making “Cherry Tree Lane” a memorable, new musical landmark. The superlative combined choreographical talents of co-director Matthew Bourne and Stephen Mear, along with Director Richard Eyre, set this musical apart.
Besides the whimsical coming and goings of mystical nanny Mary Poppins (charmingly portrayed by Steffanie Leigh) as she flies vertically erect while holding onto her parrot-head-handled umbrella, and exits, soaring like a shooting star in the distance when the wind changes, the chain breaks, or she’s no longer needed, Mary makes simple tasks an adventure, performing them quickly, efficiently and magically.
Mary unpacks her belongings, pulling a plethora of large items from her seemingly bottomless carpetbag. She slides up a bannister, repairs a kitchen disaster with the snap of her finger, and ensures that “Anything Can Happen”. Bob Crowley’s fabulous costumes and set, Howard Harrison’s lighting and the show’s barrage of spectacular special effects are outstanding. In a black-and-white, somber-looking London neighborhood, the production zeroes in on a house at 17 Cherry Tree Lane that suddenly unfolds and opens like a large, pop-up greeting card, revealing its two-level, conservative interior.
This production of P.L. Travers’ story isn’t all lightness and fantasy, though. There’s a touch of realism that’s timeless and relevant today, highlighting homelessness, poverty, exploitive business practices, and fear of losing one’s job. Banker George Banks (Michael Dean Morgan) ignores his wife Winnifred (Blythe Wilson) and two children while working fastidiously at his job. He tries social climbing by throwing tea parties for the “right people,” to which nobody responds.
One of the most poignant scenes is Mary’s introducing the children to an old woman, dressed in rags, peddling birdfood. Janet MacEwen’s plaintive “Feed the Birds” is a touching glimpse at humanity for Mary’s young, spoiled charges, Michael and Jane Banks (Camille Mancuso and Paige Simunovich, Talon Ackerman and Cade Cannon Ball, who share roles). And their dad doesn’t realize chimney sweeps possess their own magic. Mary’s mystical male counterpart, Bert, (delightfully portrayed by Nicolas Dromard) advises, “Good luck will rub off when [a chimney sweep] shakes hands with you”. And it does.
Another stirring new scene is the battle between good vs. abusive nannies. Sunshiny Mary is a sharp contrast to Mr. Banks‘ foreboding strict Miss Andrews, (the fantastic Q. Smith). While Mary makes an ordinary, drab walk in the park explode with vivid colors as silvery statues climb off their pedestals and dance; birds chatter; and people dance and stroll happily, Miss Andrews turns happy days frighteningly sour. It’s no jolly holiday with her! “Mary Poppins” is a cornucopia of the finest in musical theater, sublimely perfect in every way.
BOX INFO: The North America touring company two-act, 2-3/4 hour production, co-created by Cameron Mackintosh, book by Julian Fellowes, appearing through March 20, at the Opera House, 538 Washington St., Boston. Performances are Tuesday-Thursday, at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 2,8 p.m.; Sunday, 1, 6:30 p.m.; additional performance March 17 at 1 p.m.; no performance March 20 at 6:30 p.m. Tickets start at $28; special VIP ticket packages available for select performances. Call Ticketmaster at 800-982-2787, visit www.broadwayacrossamerica.com/boston or the Box Office at the Colonial Theatre, 106 Boylston St., Boston.