MARY POPPINS…She’s Practically Perfect!

by Lila Achuff

HIGH ALERT! HIGH ALERT! Look what the wind is carrying in! MARY POPPINS! Well, blow me over…Just when I think I’ve seen the best musical, another comes along! How lucky can I get! Prepare yourself for a night of fun, laughter and tears…bring your imagination in hand as you delight in a staged spectacular adventure, an evening of song and dance that will have you bouncing in your seats, in the aisles (if you dare) and out of the theatre. It’s simply unforgettable! A few audience participants were dressed in costume…talk about getting into it! I love it! (And pay attention as there will be a test at the end of this gushing review!)

"Step In Time": Steffanie Leigh as Mary Poppins, Katie Balen as Jane Banks, Bryce Baldwin as Michael Banks, Nicolas Dromard as Bert, and the National Tour Company of MARY POPPINS. ©Disney/CML (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Picture this, Readers: 1910…London…a wealthy family of four…a mother/wife who is losing her sense of self-importance, an overworked father/husband who thinks children should be seen and not heard, two somewhat bratty, but adorable, children in need of a nanny. So, of course, out of nowhere appears Mary Poppins (Steffanie Leigh) with her magical carpetbag and parrot-headed umbrella, here to rescue the Banks family from totally falling apart. While she’s here, using her knowledge of Parenting Skills 101, this flying family counselor will be imparting life lessons to this broken family faster than she can snap her fingers, slide up banisters, tap her toes and sing, all in scenes one more enchanting than the next. (One of my faves was when the front of their house opened to show the inside of their “parlor”, like a page opens in a pop-up book. Holy Toledo!)

All right, we get to witness the rude, nasty, grumpy behavior of George Banks (Michael Dean Morgan) because he’s consumed with work and expects everything to be in spit-spot order, including house, wife and kids; we feel very sorry for Winifred Banks (Blythe Wilson) as she’s trying so hard to be the best wife and mother she can possibly be; and, oh, those sweet (?) children, Jane (Camille Mancuso or Marissa Smoker) and Michael Banks (Talon Ackerman, Cade Canon Ball or Tyler Merna) who are, figuratively speaking, crying out for “rules and regs” which I refer to as “love and attention”. So easy to see all this from the outside looking in, yes? How many of us see ourselves up there? Just asking.

BUT, no worry – help is on the way! In the form of MARY POPPINS and all her buds! Number #1 Bud is Bert (Nicolas Dromard), the chimney sweep. He provides the positive male image in the story as friend to Mary, “Big Brother” to the children and role model to George Banks. They all sing and dance their way into our hearts with “Jolly Holiday” when the silver statues come to life! “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” and “Feed the Birds” might just bring a tear to your eye. The Sweeps, along with Bert, Mary, Jane and Michael, perform “Step in Time” (lengthy but never long enough for me) on the rooftops of London with a darkened setting. Be still my heart!

It’s my understanding that “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” (try spelling that without looking) was the first song to be tackled during rehearsals in the attempt to coordinate the singing with quick-moving hand gestures. Incredible! There are seven new songs in the stage version of MARY POPPINS. Think you can identify them?

Steffanie Leigh, National Tour Company of MARY POPPINS ©Disney/CML Photo by Joan Marcus

Trite but true, all good things come to an end. The Banks family is “fixed” in the time it took to do ACT II, thanks to you-know-who. Speed is of the essence here. Her job is done; the wind is changing; it’s time for her to go.

Children, I want you to keep smiling and watch the very last trick that Mary Poppins does especially for you!

There is something very practical about Mary Poppins. We are not getting out of this show without learning a lesson or two about good parenting as well as appropriate behavior for children. It’s all about kindness and caring for one another. And Mary exhibits all this in her “kind but firm” approach in her interactions with everyone she encounters. Here’s hoping you all are young-at-heart, young enough to still believe in MARY POPPINS.

Sound and lighting: I noted that sometimes the sound wasn’t in balance – vocals were louder as they were closer to the front of the stage. Also, occasionally I found lighting to be weak particularly on the person singing.

Choreography, costumes, sets…fantastic!

Did you know that a.) it took 42 years for MARY POPPINS to go from the 1964 film to Broadway in 2006 and b.) this musical was based on the 8 books of Pamela Lyndon Travers (1899-1996) published between 1934 and 1991?

Now for your test! “A Spoonful of Sugar makes the _________________”.

Until the next show…

Music and Lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman
Book by Julian Fellowes
Additional music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe
March 23 – April 17, 2011
Academy of Music
Philadelphia, PA

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