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Shout It From The Rooftops MARY POPPINS Is Magnificent!

By: Jun. 12, 2010
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I had a most difficult time falling asleep last night. It was one of those nights when something kept going over and over in my mind, preventing sleep from happening. As a creature of the theater, I get most excited by a show that gives me goose bumps and keeps me riveted from beginning to end. Disney and Cameron Mackintosh have teamed to bring us a stage version of MARY POPPINS. Last night, MARY POPPINS opened at the Broward Center. It is a "Jolly Holiday" for me to tell you, MARY POPPINS is one of the greatest musicals in years.

I was taken, along with my sisters, to the Fox theater in Brooklyn when the Disney film of MARY POPPINS opened there. At that tender young age I thought the movie was wonderful. I knew it had problems (my big sister Fran was right, the movie was too long), but on the whole it was a delightful film. And I fell deeply, madly, and forever in love with Julie Andrews. Let's answer the number one question right away. The stage musical, MARY POPPINS, is not as good as the movie. It is better. Much, much better.

Now, I must make you aware that you are reading the words of a man who had to hold back tears when the overture started and I heard the strains of the Oscar winning song "Chim Chim Cher-ee." However, the bravos and cheers of last night's audience and the discussion for many hours with my "other half," tell me I am not in the minority when it comes to loving MARY POPPINS.

Though "Practically Perfect In Every Way" MARY POPPINS does suffer the malady that effects many otherwise great musicals. It kind of loses its way in the last third of the show. It is a half hour too long, it begins to fall apart book wise, and it does not seem not know how to end. Then again, when it does indeed near its end and we are tricked and fooled by the stage magicians, we are finally paid off with what we came to believe was not going to happen. She does it. Mary Poppins, umbrella in tow, flies from the stage of the Broward Center, over the audience, to somewhere in the third or forth balcony. The fact that it was attempted is excellent. The fact that it is achieved beyond anyone's wildest dream is probably thanks to The Combined talents of the folks at Disney and those at Cameron Mackintosh's office. Mary Poppins flying near the end of the show last night is something I will never forget. And do not dare think it was a cheap theatrical trick. It was as heartfelt as anything else in this show, and this show has heart. "Miles, and miles and miles of heart," to borrow from DAMN YANKEES.

This musical is based on the stories by P.L. Travers and the Walt Disney film of MARY POPPINS. I suspect that most going to the musical are familiar with the film. The show is certainly different from the film, although, not very much so. The show has mercifully lost from the score, the worst songs in the film. For this we are thankful. I never understood how some of the songs in the MARY POPPINS movie were allowed to stay. MARY POPPINS has new songs that were written for the stage by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. Most successful among these are "Being Mrs. Banks," a fine musical character song performed with an ease of confidence, and a wonderful singing voice by Blythe Wilson as Mrs. Banks (there are others who take part in the number, but the song is HERS.) The other welcome new addition is "Brimstone and Treacle," sung by Ellen Harvey as Miss Andrew. Naming the character Miss Andrew was clearly "blowing a kiss" to Julie Andrews. Miss Harvey also plays a couple of minor characters as part of the ensemble. But, boy oh boy, it is as Miss Andrew that Miss Harvey gets to be wicked, mean and evil. She has the song to help her on her way and performs it as divinely as any villain this side of Dorothy Loudon as Miss Hannigan in ANNIE. As a matter of fact, every moment on stage, for that matter, everything that happens to the character and is done to the character is just as the actor playing them. Ellen Harvey is sensational, just sensational.

We could have done without the other songs written for the show. On first hearing, they did not have the effect as the rest of the far more familiar score. For the most part, in a show such as this, new songs, do not stand much of a chance as those with which we are familiar.

The beguiling, primary score for this show was written by Richared M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman. They do not need praise from me. The Oscars took care of that many years ago. However, what a great joy it was hearing those songs again, with supreme singers, live, and in person.

My favorite song from MARY POPPINS is "Feed The Birds." As performed by Mary VanArsdel as the Bird Woman and Caroline Sheen as Mary Poppins, the song is absolutely gorgeous. Caroline Sheen is also absolutely gorgeous. As is her singing voice. She is a dream come true as Mary Poppins. She has played the role in London, she is very, very much like Julie Andrews and she is just supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

Laird Mackintosh does his best as George Banks, and that is saying a lot. However, Mr. Mackintosh is too slight and young a man to ever be believable as Mr. Banks. He is also given the role that is most problematically written. The book by Julian Fellowes does have its problems. I am not here to pen and pick over Mr. Fellowes' book. I loved MARY POPPINS and that is cause for celebration.

Richard Eyre has done a superb job of being the evening's master magician. Musicals are the most collaborative of art forms, so it is difficult to tell who was responsible for what. Mr. Eyre has the title of director, so it is he that we thank for bringing us an evening of theater unlike any before it.

The choreography by Matthew Bourne and Stephen Mear is simply sublime. Clever, inspired, and daring. They put themselves to the test with what may be the show's most impossible number, "Step In Time." If I wore a hat, it would be off to you two gentlemen.

Framing, embellishing and often playing important parts in this special effects filled outing are the stupendous looking and perfectly serviceable sets and costumes designed by Bob Crowley. Likewise, the haunting, and jubilant lighting is from the magical hands of Howard Harrison.

There is so much to tell you when a show really hits you in the heart like this one did. You may take a break at any point to purchase tickets for the show. As long as you come back to finish reading my review, of course.

I must remember the totally engaging performances of Bailey Grey and Carter Thomas as Jane and Michael Banks. They alternate with two other children as the Banks brood, but I am pleased as punch on a hot summer's morning that I got to see the charming performances of Ms. Grey and Mr. Thomas.

Gavin Lee comes very close to stealing the show as Bert, the part played by Dick Van Dyke in the film. The aforementioned Ellen Harvey as Miss Andrew comes pretty close to stealing the show as well. Mr. Lee's Bert is a lovely creation. You immediately know he has a heart of gold and that if you keep your eye on him, impossible things will continually happen. Mr. Lee has, what may be the show's greatest moment, when he dances up the side of the stage right to the ceiling, where he continues to dance. Tap dancing no less, on the ceiling of the stage, upside down! Come to think of it, Gavin Lee is very reminiscent of Dick Van Dyke. As Caroline Sheen is very reminiscent of Julie Andrews. Well, I can't think of two stars more glittering to reach for.

Caroline Sheen and Gavin Lee are both sensational. They are quite simply, stupendous as they lead this ship of magic and dreams coming true, that is the musical MARY POPPINS.

The last performance of MARY POPPINS at the Broward Center is June 27th.



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