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Southern Florida by John Lariviere


Mary Poppins

Also see John's review of the recent Pops! concert

Mary Poppins
Caroline Sheen and Gavin Lee
Disney Theatrical Productions and Cameron Mackintosh present Mary Poppins at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. The musical Mary Poppins is based on the stories of Australian born author P.L. Travers, written between 1924 and 1988, and the 1964 Walt Disney film of the same name. It features original music and lyrics by Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman and a book by Julian Fellowes, with new songs and additional music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. The original production of opened in December of 2004 in London's West End and received two Olivier Awards. Following the success of the West End production, a Broadway production debuted on November 16, 2006, at the New Amsterdam Theatre. It received seven Tony Award nominations, including Best Musical, winning one for Best Scenic Design.

The stage musical is a blend of various aspects from both the Disney film and the Travers series of children's books. Some scenes from the books that had been omitted from the film, such as visiting with the talking statue Neleus and the mystical candy store owner Mrs. Corry, have been inserted into the musical. Other moments, such as the "I Love To Laugh" scene with Uncle Albert in the film, have been removed. Purists of the Disney movie may find a few new moments delightful and others only puzzling. The addition of Neleus and the dancing statues in the park is a welcome surprise, and replaces the animated talking/singing animals in the movie beautifully. The addition of a Mrs. Corry the candy store owner, combined with her Jamaican accent and costuming and makeup for that scene that looks like it is out of a Dr. Seuss book feels very out of place. The scene featuring dancing dolls is a bit tedious, and added to the Mrs. Corry scene, bogs down the end of the first act.

The scenic design for Mary Poppins truly is "practically perfect in every way." As the curtain rises, the exterior of the home of Mr. and Mrs. Banks unfolds like a pop-up card to reveal the interior of the house. The kitchen later disastrously falls apart and miraculously puts itself back together. Mary Poppins does indeed arrive and depart from the sky with umbrella held high aloft (her final departure is straight over the entire audience). The most impressive moment of all is watching Bert walk up the side of the proscenium arch, dance and sing upside-down from the proscenium ceiling, and walk back down the other side. On opening night some minor sound issues (too much reverb) at the beginning of the show made it hard to understand the speaking, but it was fixed rather quickly. Costuming and makeup come together artfully in the living statues who reside in the park. When married to the sculpted bodies of the dancers who portray them, one would not know they were living when at a state of rest. Their balletic dancing is also quite lovely—particularly that of Garett Hawe who plays Neleus.

Laird Mackintosh is missing a genuine quality in his portrayal of patriarch George Banks. While George is someone who extraordinarily internalizes everything, Mackintosh's acting moments are all quite externalized. I was acutely aware of the fact that he carries himself like a dancer during the show, and seemed intent on making pretty pictures of his moments. The children Jane (Bailey Grey) and Michael (Carter Thomas) are not as endearing in this production as one would hope. Miss Grey has a few promising acting moments in the second act that show her talent, but Mr. Thomas does not fare as well. He misses most of his notes in the song "The Perfect Nanny," and 75% of his lines are unintelligible due to rushed and sloppy diction, and his errant English accent.

Minor concerns aside, this production of Mary Poppins holds many magical moments. Gavin Lee (Bert) is effortless in his dancing, smooth in his comedy, and totally and utterly charming. Caroline Sheen is a wonderful Mary Poppins (though be prepared for the character to be a bit more stern than in the movie). Ellen Harvey gives a standout performance as the nanny Mrs. Andrew. This fleshing out of this role is a great change in the musical, and Harvey leaves no stone unturned in exploring the villainesque nature of this character. The role has the most demanding vocal range in the show, and she more than delivers in "Brimstone and Treacle." The reprise of this song has a bit of a sing-off between Mary Poppins and Miss Andrew ("Brimstone and Treacle" vs. "A Spoonful of Sugar"). Though Miss Andrew is no match for Mary Poppins in the play, it is clear that Sheen is no match for Harvey vocally. Mary VanArsdel (The Bird Woman) sings a heartwarming version of "Feed the Birds," and the entertaining and energetic choreography to "Step In Time" and "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" will stay with you long after the curtain descends on this Disney classic.

The Sherman brothers received two Academy Awards for Mary Poppins: Best Music, Score—Substantially Original and Best Original Song for "Chim Chim Cher-ee," as well as a Grammy Award for Best Original Score for a Motion Picture or Television Show. The brothers are best known for their work with Walt Disney, in particular for writing the song "It's A Small World." Together they have written more motion-picture musical song scores than any other songwriting team in film history. Their work includes Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Jungle Book, The Aristocats, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, The Parent Trap, Charlotte's Web and Snoopy, Come Home. Among their many honors for contributions to the motion picture industry, they have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame on June 9, 2005, and received the National Medal of Arts on November 17, 2008.

Mary Poppins will be appearing at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts through June 27, 2010. The Broward Center for the Performing Arts is located in the Riverwalk Arts & Entertainment District at 201 SW Fifth Avenue in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Presentations at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts are sponsored in part by the State of Florida, Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs, the Florida Arts Council, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Support is also contributed by the Broward Performing Arts Foundation, Inc. The Riverwalk Arts & Entertainment Consortium is a cultural partnership between the Performing Arts Center Authority, Museum of Art | Fort Lauderdale, Florida Grand Opera., Fort Lauderdale Historical Society and The Historic Stranahan House Museum. It is supported by the Broward County Board of County Commissioners as recommended by the Broward Cultural Council and the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention Visitors Bureau. For any of the offerings of the Broward Center for the Performing Arts you may contact them by phone at 954-462-0222 or online at www.browardcenter.org.

This Broadway Across America - Ft. Lauderdale production of Mary Poppins is presented by Disney and Cameron Mackintosh, in arrangement with the Florida Theatrical Association. The Florida Theatrical Association is a non-profit, civic organization with a volunteer board of trustees established to ensure the continued presentation of quality national touring Broadway productions in the state of Florida. Broadway Across America is dedicated to creating memorable and accessible theatrical experiences for all guests, selling over 5 million tickets to first rate Broadway shows, family productions and other live theatrical events in over 40 North American cities each year. For more information or to purchase tickets through an authorized agent, please visit www.BroadwayAcrossAmerica.com.

Cast:
Bert: Gavin Lee
Mary Poppins: Caroline Sheen*
George Banks: Laird Mackintosh
Winifred Banks: Blythe Wilson
Jane Banks: Bailey Grey
Michael Banks: Carter Thomas
Katie Nanna: Emily Harvey
Miss Andrew/Queen Victoria/Mrs. Smythe: Ellen Harvey
Bird Woman: Mary VanArsdel
Policeman: Jonathan Brody
Miss Lark: Debra Cardona
Admiral Boom/Bank Chairman: Mike O'Carroll
Mrs. Brill: Rachel Izen
Robertson Ay: Dennis Moench
Park Keeper: Tom Souhrada
Neleus: Garett Hawe
Von Hussler: Michael Gerhart
Northbrook: Dominic Roberts
Mrs. Corry: Q. Smith
Valentine: Nick Sanchez
Ensemble: Tia Altinay, Carol Angeli, Jacob ben Widmar, Kiara Bennett, Elizabeth Broadhurst, Steffi Gerhart, Geoffrey Goldberg, Eric Hatch, Tiffany Howard, Sam Kiernan, Koh Mochizuki, and Shua Potter

Crew:
Direction: Richard Eyre, Anthony Lyn and Matthew Bourne
Music Director: James Dodgson
Choreography: Stephen Mear, Matthew Bourne and Geoffrey Garratt
Scenic / Costume Design: Bob Crowley
Lighting Design: Howard Harrison
Sound Design: Steve Canyon Kennedy
Makeup Design: Naomi Donne

*Caroline Sheen is appearing with the support of Actors' Equity Association pursuant to an exchange program between American Equity and UK Equity. The other members of the cast of this production are members of Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.


Photo: Joan Marcus


See the current theatre season schedule for southern Florida.

-- John Lariviere



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