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Theatre Review: Mary Poppins

October 1, 2012

Mary PoppinsOver the past several decades, Mary Poppins has been a cherished part of the lives of millions of children around the world. The original 1934 stories by P.L. Travers and the classic 1964 film starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke have kept the story alive and relevant, and now, the Broadway musical is enchanting a whole new generation of fans, young and old alike.

Thankfully, the stage version of Mary Poppins preserves nearly every song from the film. Favorites like "Chim Chim Cher-ee," "Jolly Holiday," "A Spoonful of Sugar," "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," "Step in Time," "Feed the Birds," "Let's Go Fly a Kite," and "A Man Has Dreams," are presented along with new tunes like "Practically Perfect," "Playing the Game," "Being Mrs. Banks," and "Anything Can Happen." The score is well-balanced, providing a good deal of up-tempo fun peppered with tender moments of poignant introspection.

Visually, Mary Poppins captures the vivid wonder of the film and takes it a step further, featuring a mix of elaborate and colorful set pieces, brilliant lighting effects, and some well-crafted stage illusions. Kids will puzzle over the impossibility of Mary's magical feats, including her famous bottomless handbag; sets like the night-time view of the London rooftops inspire awe; and the immense and dazzling backdrops for scenes like "Jolly Holiday" are a feast for the eyes. The choreography in the show is exciting, perfectly synchronized, and in no short supply. Numbers like "Step in Time," and especially "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" are sure-fire show-stoppers.

Fans of the movie are no strangers to the diverse characters of the Mary Poppins world. What struck me most at my performance (a stop on the show's national tour) was the attitude of the titular nanny. While clearly a wise and nurturing figure, Mary (played by a spot-on Madeline Trumble) has a touch of the no-nonsense defiance and matter-of-fact eccentricity of Gene Wilder's Willy Wonka.

The children (played in my performance by Eli Tokash and Julianna Rigoglioso) are delightfully naughty and petulant at the beginning, but grow to much more understanding (and their cheeky gags and one-liners are great for the occasional laugh). Just as Bert (a charming and sympathetic Con O'Shea-Creal) takes on many jobs, he alternates between narrator, sidekick, and, touchingly and heartbreakingly, hopeless romantic in his relationship with Mary. George Banks (in a strong performance by Michael Dean Morgan) plays the burdened bread-winner while wife Winnifred (portrayed by committed show veteran Elizabeth Broadhurst), arguably the real heart of the show, struggles with society's expectations of her to be a gentlewoman instead of a loving wife and mother. The characters' journeys hit a variety of emotional notes and end with a satisfying resolution.

Overall, Mary Poppins is everything one could want in a musical. Its enduring success in London's West End, on Broadway, and on national tour are a testament to the story's enduring popularity as well as the musical's quality. Mary Poppins has already cemented its place among other Disney favorites like The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, and this season's new hit, Newsies. Why not grab your tickets now and take the family to see Mary Poppins? It really is 'practically perfect.'

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