Disney and Cameron Mackintosh present
A musical based on the stories of P.L. Travers and The Walt Disney Film
Mary Poppins, Disney’s newest multi-million dollar extravaganza opened in November 2006 on Broadway, six months after the disastrous Tarzan made its debut. Disney executives must have breathed a sigh of relief when this production received a warmer reception from both critics and audiences. The musical, based on P.L. Travers stories and the classic Disney film, features the Academy Award winning-music and lyrics of Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman and a book by screenwriter Julian Fellows. According to the press release for the show, Cameron Mackintosh is listed not only as a producer, but a co-creator of the work. George Stiles and Anthony Drewe are credited with writing additional music and lyrics.
While the new songs are not very memorable, the classic score will please Disney fans as it retains such beloved and hummable songs as “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” “A Spoonful of Sugar” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” The plot is faithful to the movie: Mary Poppins drops out of the sky and into the Banks household to take care of two unruly children. With the use of enchantment, she manages to keep them under control and transform them from ungrateful, spoiled children into well-behaved, thoughtful youngsters.
The physical production is flawless and it is clear that Disney and Mackintosh spared no expense in bringing this dearly-loved childhood tale to the stage. The sets and costumes (both by Bob Crowley) are extravagant and perfectly detailed and some of the special effects are downright dazzling if a bit excessive. One scene in which Bert, the winning Gavin Lee, tap dances up the side of the proscenium arch, is breathtaking. The choreography, by Matthew Bourne, is fresh and spirited and especially suits Mr. Lee’s lanky and rather rubbery physique.
However, as beautifully executed as some parts of Mary Poppins are, the show seems to leave one unengaged in the main character. As Mary, Ashley Brown is capable – she sings nicely and delivers her lines with bravado. However, she lacks the star quality one would wish for the central character. Her performance, which should be as magic as the tricks she performs for the kids, is missing the radiance and magnetism the part requires. Her forced smile seems downright wicked at times and she seems not to like the kids very much. Her on-stage counterpart, Mr. Lee, on the other hand, delivers a charismatic and terrific turn as the chimney sweep with a soft spot for Mary. A fabulous triple-threat, Mr. Lee appears as comfortable tap dancing upside down as he is sitting on a park bench. The children, which at the performance I saw, were played by Kathryn Faughnan and Matthew Gumley, are surprisingly good child actors and seemed like old pros.
The most appealing characters in the show are Mr. and Mrs. Banks, probably because they are played by two exceptional and seasoned Broadway veterans. Daniel Jenkins, as Mr. Banks, and Rebecca Luker, as Mrs. Banks, are both outstanding, taking what might be forgettable parts and creating an emotional center for the show. Ms. Luker, with her sweet soprano and enchanting manner, is the mom we all we had. Mr. Jenkins’ journey from aloof head of the household to loving dad and husband is the most interesting subplot in the show and it is he who creates the one “a-ha!” moment where you finally feel the old Disney magic on stage. It is telling that this happens without any of the artificial trickery in the rest of the show
With Ashley Brown, Gavin Lee, Daniel Jenkins, Rebecca Luker, Cass Morgan, Mark Price, Ruth Gottschall, Michael McCarty and Jane Carr.
Original Music and Lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe; Co-created by Cameron Mackintosh; Produced for Disney Theatrical Productions by Thomas Schumacher; Music Supervisor David Caddick,; Music Director Brad Haak; Orchestrations by William David Brohn; Broadway Sound Design by Steve Canyon Kennedy; Dance and Vocal Arrangements by George Stiles; Lighting Design by Howard Harrison; Scenic and Costume Design by Bob Crowley; Co-direction and Choreography by Matthew Bourne; Directed by Richard Eyre.