If you're expecting Mary Poppins the stage musical to be a fun, funny and magical family event, you will not be disappointed in the touring production, now at the Benedum Center. It is a bit different from the classic 1964 film (a natural for adapting to the stage) starring Julie Andrews, and is based more on the original P.L. Travers book series, mostly in mood and atmosphere. Your favorite songs by Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman are here, as well as some impressive dancing and clever, though not mind-blowing, special effects. George Stiles and Anthony Drewe provide new material for several of the songs, and seven new songs of their own as well. Julian Fellowes' book is easy to follow and, for the most part, to the point. All in all, this theatrical Poppins, directed by Matthew Bourne and Richard Eyre, should please fans, from the young to the young only at heart.
Travers' tale introduces the slightly mysterious, ever-efficient and wise nanny named Mary Poppins (Caroline Sheen) who arrives, unbeckoned, on the doorstep of the Banks family just in their time of need. Mrs. Banks (Blythe Wilson) is sweet and well-meaning, but she has lost control of children Jane (Paige Simunovich, who alternates with Camille Mancuso) and Michael (Cade Canon Ball, who alternates with Talon Ackerman), and the youngsters are disrespectful brats. Mr. Banks (Laird Mackintosh) is high-strung and under pressure at his bank job. The household must be brought under control before it falls apart. Mary teaches life lessons in a way that children respond to, and the adults share in the benefits in many ways. Mary's friend Bert (Nicolas Dromard) is a chimney sweep who joins Mary and the kids as they roam London and magic takes over their formerly unexciting lives.
It's a fast-paced adventure as Mary swoops in and before long out of the lives of the Banks, leaving well-behaved children and an orderly lives behind. Though not depicted as warm and nurturing as Andrews in the film, our stage Mary is written to be more businesslike and less attached. Sheen is lovely in the role, with a beautiful singing voice on the many songs the film made famous, including "A Spoonful of Sugar" and "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious." Dromard is a narrator of sorts, joins Mary and the others in several songs, and is showcased for his dancing, highlighted in a very nicely done "Step in Time." Bourne has provided exemplary choreography for all. The Banks family actors are fine, with the children seeming quite naturally bratty (though I'm sure they're not!), singing very well, and contributing greatly to the overall solid and even production. Ellen Harvey is a hilarious and scene-stealing treat as Mr. Banks' former nanny, the anti-Mary, Miss Andrew. The rest of the supporting cast and ensemble are energetic, talented, and add great professionalism to the production.
The Tony Award-winning scenic design by Bob Crowley is lush and impressive, as we've come to expect from 21st century large musical tours, with many pieces sliding in and out in surprising ways, and dissolving scene to scene quickly and efficiently. The bank set is tremendous in gray scale, with superb use of perspective. Crowley's costumes are also well done, though the "nude" statues that come to life in the park scene are at times awkward (or maybe it's the choreography and length of that scene), but it is the only uneven point in the show.
This presentation of Disney and Cameron Mackintosh debuted in London in 2004, running from December 2004 through January 2008 in the West End, and opened on Broadway in 2006, where it still runs.
This is a terrific family show, except for possibly the very, very youngest, and it's hard not to get caught up in the positive spirit promoted by the story.
Mary Poppins continues at the Benedum through January 23. For performance and ticket information, visit pgharts.org. For more information on the tour, visit http://disney.go.com/theatre/marypoppins/tour/.