BWW Reviews: The Fulton's MARY POPPINS - A 'Practically Perfect' Version of the (Flawed) Mackintosh Musical
In the program for MARY POPPINS at the Fulton Theatre, director Marc Robin devotes a couple of pages to his childhood relationship with Mary Poppins - story, movie, music. That's fine - as another Jewish kid of the same age and time, I have my own relationship to the magic of Mary Poppins. My grandmother read P.L. Travers' stories to me. My parents took me to the movie. I wore out multiple needles on my record player - remember those? - while wearing out the LP of the soundtrack. The students in my elementary school era spelling contests were obsessed with one question: would we be asked to spell "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious"? Before I was older and met "antidisestablishmentarianism" it was the longest word I knew. And as I had the album, I'd read the word and I could spell it perfectly; I'm still bitter that the school never stuck it into the spelling word mix. I would have won that spelling championship, hands down.
And then there was the time - I was what? All of five? - when I met a group of nuns on the beach and when they asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up, I told them. I wanted to be Mary Poppins. They loved it. And I wasn't even lying.
I was so convinced that Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke were the greatest performers on the planet that I still can't shake it - I voluntarily watched Blake Edwards' "S.O.B." more than once just to see Miss Andrews in it and, I hang my head to confess, I actually watched "Diagnosis: Murder" on a regular basis because... Bert.
I blame Mary Poppins as well as my mother for my passion for oversized handbags. I might need to carry a hatstand in my bag someday. And a giant bottle of medicine - oh, wait, I already carry a huge lot of medicine in mine. See? I told you.
Therefore, I rejoiced when I heard that the formative tale of my childhood was going to Broadway. Richard M. Sherman's and Robert B. Sherman's lyrics and music were going to be transplanted to the stage. Julian Fellowes, better known to many for "Downton Abbey," was adapting the film script to the book. Cameron Mackintosh was doing this, for crying out loud. What could go wrong? Well... a couple of things. Beware the "new songs and additional music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe": the greatest disappointment in my musical life besides modern orchestral music is the new lyrics to "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious". "He traveled all around the world, and everywhere he went, he'd use this word and all would say, 'There goes a clever gent'" is gone? No "when dukes and maharajahs passed the time of day with me, I'd say me special word and then they'd ask me out for tea" remains? There's a criminal penalty for tampering with those, some of the Shermans' cleverest lyrics, and with other equally great lyric writing that's gone missing and hasn't been replaced with even half-clever forgeries. There's another criminal penalty for writing "Stay Awake" and "I Love to Laugh" and several other fine Sherman songs from the movie out of the musical and replacing them with "Brimstone and Treacle" and "Being Mrs. Banks".
The other things wrong? Well, Mrs. Banks used to be a spunky suffragette. Why is a discontented former stage actress an improvement? And seriously, would George Banks really marry an actress? She's not our class, dear. Some of the very best people were women's suffragists. But an actress? The horror! No wonder no one wants to have tea with her. She's depressive and miserable where the film Mrs. Banks was strong and dedicated. ("Sister Suffragette" was far more fun, too, than the dismal "Being Mrs. Banks".) And Mr. Banks suffers from a dysfunctional childhood caused by an abusive nanny nicknamed "The Holy Terror" by her former charges, which has caused him not only to be a distant, even absent husband and father, but insulting, slightly abusive, and an all-around louse. So now, Mary Poppins has to play family therapist instead of just being the world's greatest nanny ever. Doctor Phil, where are you when we need you most?