Monday, June 8, 2009

Mary Poppins - The Musical

We went to see the Disney/Cameron Mackintosh presentation of Mary Poppins at Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theater last week, and it was a resounding hit with all members of my family. My two boys, Disney nuts both, were entranced by the music and the action, and my wife thought it was one of the best musicals she's ever seen.

I have to agree with my family members. It was a triumph! Spectacular scenery and effects, wonderful performers and a familiar story made for a really entertaining afternoon. It features the stars of the Broadway version, Ashley Brown as Poppins herself, and Gavin Lee as Bert. Almost all of the familiar songs from the Disney movie (except "I Love To Laugh") were part of the show, though reworked into the story in slightly different order and to slightly different purposes.

The story itself is different than the one told in the movie. I've not read the P.L. Travers book, so I can't say how closely it follows that story. But as most Disneyphiles know, Walt and Ms. Travers didn't see eye to eye on the version that Disney brought to the screen, and she hated the final product. When she was approached about bringing the story to the stage, she allowed it on the condition that no one from Disney would be involved in the creative process. I don't know how strictly this was interpreted, but it did apparently preclude the Sherman Brothers from writing new songs for the musical (though they were still writing in the nineties when this began to be conceived, according to the Wikipedia article).

Anyway, the story they've come up with is in fact better, deeper, darker, and more emotional than the Disney version. There is more about George Banks' own problems and how they reflect on the Banks household. There is the undercurrent of marital discord, however understated it might be. And there is a more realistic, believable reason for Mr. Banks' concerns about his job at the bank.

The sets were outstanding. The Banks house opens to the audience like a lifesized dollhouse, and the park and the bank sets were really well done. I wondered how they would handle "Jolly Holiday" without animation, but they did it with color, and it was a very effective number.

And when Mary Poppins flies off into the sky, it connects you right back to the beloved movie.

I don't know if we'll get the chance, but I'd love to go see it before it leaves Chicago.

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