Wednesday, November 18, 2009

review - Mary Poppins

Mary Poppins
book by Julian Fellowes
music by The Sherman Brothers
new songs by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe
directed by Anthony Lyn (from Richard Eyre's original direction)
Ahmanson Theatre
through February 7, 2010

Mary Poppins with its glucose rush was a film I could not resist in the early 60s, since I was such an impressionable kid. I loved Dick Van Dyke's "Step in Time" dance extravaganza with all the chimney sweeps... and the Bird Woman's admirable mission to nurture our feathered friends. Seeing the stage version in 2009, however, was not at the top of my wish list. But, I must say, I'm glad I saw it. What an uplifting experience with such oustanding production values! Some material from P. L. Travers' stories has been judiciously added to the story from the screenplay, and the overall effect is enchanting.

Ashley Brown plays Mary without one false move; like the new song says, she's "Practically Perfect". Gavin Lee as Bert is another delight. Narrator, dancer, chimney sweep, painter: Lee is as pleasurable as a chameleon changing colors. The precocious children Jane and Michael Banks (double cast -Katie Balen or Bailey Grey; Bryce Baldwin or Carter Thomas) and their parents George (Karl Kenzler) and Winifred (Megan Osterhaus) show us an early version of the typical dysfunctional family that could be a puzzlement for a nanny were she not of the Mary Poppins school of etiquette. Such is the case with George's old nanny Miss Andrew (Ellen Harvey) who believes in a firm hand and treats with "Brimstone and Treacle". The added scene at the top of Act II provides some fun dueling moments for Brown and Harvey, and proves once and for all that dysfunctional treatments will never cure dysfunction. Harvey makes a delicious 'nanny from hell'. Others worthy of note are Q Smith as Mrs. Corry and Mary VanArsdel as the Bird Woman. (the haunting "Feed the Birds")

Bob Crowley (scenic and costume design) does a superb job especially in the "Jolly Holiday" sequence where everything black and white turns to vibrant color. The house on Cherry Lane that opens as in a storybook is a wonder, as are all the toys in "Playing the Game".
These stories are for children and adults of all ages. Remember: "A Man Has Dreams" and "Anything Can Happen". Let yourself go and "Let's Go Fly a Kite"!
4 out of 5 stars


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