(Anything Can Happen If You Let It, Act II)
The “practically perfect” nanny has flown into town as part of the 5/3rd Bank Broadway Series, and for the most part, she lives up to expectations. A mixture of material from the 1964 film, Travers’ original novels, and new songs, Mary Poppins will certainly delight children, families, and lovers of well-crafted musicals.
While the essential outline of the story remains the same (Mary Poppins comes to answer the children’s advert for a nanny, and ends up changing them in ways that they could not have imagined), the new adaption from Cameron MacIntosh and Disney Theatricals (with a book by Julian Fellowes) uses original material from the books to flesh out characters, situations, and storylines. This leads to a slightly darker tone than the movie, but I didn’t find it overwhelming.
One of the pluses of the stage version is the fleshing out of George (Laird Mackintosh) and Winnifred (Blythe Wilson) Banks. This is especially so in the latter’s case, with the silly (but lovable) “Sister Suffragette” replaced with the pleading and lovely “Being Mrs. Banks.” George’s emotional distance from his children, and Winnifred’s lack of connection with her husband, lead to Jane (Paige Sumunovich at this performance) and Michael (Talon Ackerman, also at this performance—these roles alternate between two casts of children) being a bit brattish, acting out to gain attention and escape the tyrannical nannies that their father insists they have. But once Mary Poppins (a “practically perfect” Steffanie Leigh) flies into their living room, things begin to change.
While she tolerates no nonsense, she also leads the children to see beyond the ordinary, in pieces like the delightful “Jolly Holiday”, set in a gloomy park that becomes a multicolored wonderland as Bert (a fantastic Jesse Swimm) and Mary bring statues to life in front of them. “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” returns to its original setting in th stories—Mrs. Corry’s (Michelle E. White) candy shop, where Mary Poppins wants to buy pieces of conversation, but can only buy individual letters (which, of course, spell out the title of the song.) Movie favorites “Feed the Birds” and “Step In Time” are also reimagined, with “Feed the Birds” becoming a duet between the Bird Woman (Janet MacEwen) and Mary, as they attempt to teach Jane and Michael about altruism (Michael learns the lesson—Jane is a bit slow on the uptake). “Step In Time” becomes a tap-dancing, crowd-pleasing wonder, with Bert dancing around the stage’s proscenium (and I do mean, around, as in, up a wall, upside down across the top of the stage, and down another wall.) The capable and energetic ensemble plays Londoners, customers, chimney sweeps, and statues with aplomb. “A Spoonful of Sugar” is another crowd-pleaser, sung after the Banks children destroy the kitchen as their mother is preparing for an important tea party. Mary Poppins helps them clean it up, and even gets their mother, Mrs. Brill (the cook, played by Rachel Izen) and jack-of-all-tradesman Robinson Ay (Dennis Moench) to join in.
But all good things must come to an end, and after Jane throws a temper tantrum, Mary decides she has to let them figure things out on their own. In her place, Mrs. Banks hires Mr. Banks’ old nanny—whom he praises to the skies—Miss Andrew (Q. Smith). But upon her arrival at the start of Act II, Mr. Banks exclaims, “The Holy Terror!” and flees. After Miss Andrew spouts off her philosophy of child-rearing (in the scathing “Brimstone and Treacle”), Mrs. Banks sees what has been bothering her husband all along: he was traumatized by this horrible woman. She goes off to find him, and the children run away to Bert, where they sing “Let’s Go Fly A Kite”—and Mary Poppins returns. Her showdown with Miss Andrew is quite delightful. Eventually, Mr. and Mrs. Banks return, Mr. Banks is promoted at the bank (instead of being demoted or fired, as he had feared in Act I), and Mary shows them “Anything Can Happen If You Let It” as she ascends into the sky with her magical umbrella, the Banks family happily united at last.
The changes from the movie are all for the good. The pacing is brisk, but doesn’t feel rushed. The cast is excellent, especially Swimm as Bert (he was going on for Nicolas Dromard, who usually plays the role); Mackintosh and Wilson, and Leigh as Mary Poppins. She especially shone in the new “Practically Perfect” in Act I.
The only flaw in the production was the pit orchestra—they were much, much too loud, overpowering the singers in solos or small group moments. The ensemble as a whole could power over them, but it never became a shouting contest. Also, the conductor and the actors’ tempos didn’t seem to match at times, with the conductor going too fast or too slow for the singer onstage.
The show is in Columbus until May 8, and then it goes to Seattle. So try to catch it before it’s gone!