BWW Reviews: MARY POPPINS Delights Now thru June 10
Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious – coo, what a sight! Mary Poppins flew into San Jose bringing magic and mayhem in the most delightful way. The opening night crowd for Broadway San Jose’s Mary Poppins was thoroughly prepared to be properly entertained and they were not disappointed – though anyone expecting a repeat of the movie probably was just a wee bit let down. Written by Julian Fellows, Mary Poppins the musical, combines the best of P.L. Travers’ original book with the classic Disney movie to arrive at a more in-depth look at the residents of No. 17 Cherry Tree Lane. The must have beloved tunes from the movie (Oscars were won by The Sherman Brothers) and equally hummable songs from George Stiles and Anthony Drewe make for an unforgettable night at the theatre. Hodges and Hodges were there for the magical high jinx and fun as well as the somewhat darker elements of Mary Poppins, playing now through June 10 at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts.
The show takes us to London, circa 1910, to the upper-crust home of Mr. and Mrs. Banks (Michael Dean Morgan and Elizabeth Broadhurst) and their children Jane and Michael (Cherish Myers and Zach Timson this night), who have driven away every nanny their parents have hired. Where the movie only touches on the prim and proper problems of the adult Banks, the musical delves more deeply into their psychological underpinnings. George Banks has childhood nanny baggage of his own, while WiniFred Looks back a little too fondly on her life before family. It’s no wonder their children are incorrigible. As Bert the chimney sweep tells us, “Something is needed to twist them up, tight as the string you might use when you’re flying a kite.” That “something” ends up being a nanny named Poppins who’s practically perfect in every way.
Linda: Bob Crowley won the Tony for this show for Best Scenic Design in 2007. Do you think he deserved it, Nick?
Nick: Absolutely. I thought the sets were just brilliant. The Bank’s house on Cherry Tree Lane opening up like a giant pop-up book and the inside looked like a proper Edwardian dollhouse. The blast of vivid color in “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” was just breathtaking. And the dramatic shift from the gloomy London park to the magical, multicolored wonderland of Bert’s painting was beautiful.
Linda: Director Richard Eyre did a great job staging this Broadway baby for the touring version. On Broadway Mary flies in from the audience balcony and there’s a massive cage to capture the wicked Miss Andrew, George’s childhood nanny. For the touring company version, Mary magically appears from behind the family as a glimmer of stars (lighting by Howard Harrison) appears in the house (though she does do some light flying later). And instead of the cage, Miss Andrew is consigned to the coat closet never to be seen again.
Nick: You can’t look too closely at the demise of Nanny Andrew or else you’d realize that Scotland Yard should be called in to investigate Mary Poppins. The whole thing was a bit dodgy.
Linda: Perhaps Sherlock Holmes to the rescue? But that dark bit aside Rachel Wallace played Poppins with aplomb – coolly reserved on the one hand and sweetly charming on the other.
Nick: Practically perfect?
Linda: Okay, I wasn’t going to say it, but yes, practically perfect in every way. She made the part her own, filling some very big Julie Andrew’s pointy, Poppins boots quite well. Her close friend Bert, was played beautifully by Case Dillard.
Nick: Dillard was much younger than I was expecting Bert to be and it took me a bit to get used to him. But once I did I thought he did an excellent job and I was very pleased with his performance. He had a spot on English accent (much better than the beloved Dick Van Dyke!). His dancing chops hit the mark, big time.
Linda: I thought that the choreography was outstanding. Choreographers Matthew Bourne and Stephen Mear, who were nominated for Tonys for their work, know how to pace a number, raising them to a fever-pitch of excitement until the audience members were on The Edge of their seats and then delivering on the punch.
Nick: The intricacy of the hand gestures in "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" was an unexpected delight. Almost like American Sign Language. Amazingly none of the cast froze up – how could they remember all of that? You have to see it to believe it.
Linda: But the big showstopper came in Act II when the chimney sweeps took to the rooftops singing “Step in Time.” Bourne and Mear took that number to The Edge. Bert literally was head over heels in that number, tap-dancing his way up and around the proscenium and into the hearts of the audience.
Nick: That number more than made up for the lackluster end of Act I. No magic there, just Mary Poppins stepping out for a short time to let the Banks family work things out for themselves for a while.
Linda: I agree, Nick. That was disappointing, but it gave the dazzling Q. Smith (Mr. Bank’s terrifying childhood nanny) a chance to work her brimstone and treacle magic on the family.
Nick: Her vocal chops brought the house down. And she also played the Bird Woman. Splendid.
Linda: I also enjoyed the duo of Mrs. Brill (Tregoney Shepherd) and Robertson Ay (Blake Segal), the two house servants. Their tag team brand of comedy was a nice touch. Their parts may have been small, but they played them nice and big.
Nick: Closing thoughts?
Linda: Two things – from the “note” worthy to the philosophical. Tunesmiths George Stiles and Anthony Drewe introduced two new songs to the Poppins songbook, “Practically Perfect” and “Anything Can Happen if You Let It” and we are the richer for their contribution. Now for the philosophical - as we said earlier, Mary Poppins takes place in 1910. It makes reference to greedy bankers with low morals, the vast differences between the wealthy and the poor, and the question of a “woman’s place” in society. It’s troubling to see that in 2012 we’re still grappling with these very same issues.
Nick: Yes, but the woman who feeds the birds, Burt the chimney sweep and the good man who gives each of the children a coin saying, “It’s worth sixpence, but its value is in how you spend it,” are wonderful counterpoints to the bankers and to Nanny Andrew who says, “Follow my model and don’t coddle,” then proceeds to terrorize the household.
Linda: We need more sweetness in life. Dare I say it?
Linda: A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down --
Nick: In the most delightful way!
Now thru June 10
Broadway San Jose
San Jose Center for the Performing Arts
Photo courtesy of Broadway San Jose