New York and Connecticut theater reviews and news

New York City Theater

"Mary Poppins"
New Amsterdam Theater

The aliens are coming! The aliens are coming! In Broadway’s eye-popping, hummable but curiously inert “Mary Poppins,” a nanny from heaven brings order, discipline and a sense of fun to a family in need.

Based on stories by P. L. Travers and the 1964 Disney blockbuster film, “Mary Poppins” has its allure. Bob Crowley’s sets and costumes are hugely entertaining, mixing and matching colors and styles to create worlds where the staid black, white and brown of the Banks family is enlivened by the colors that Mary herself conjures.

This is literally true when Mary and chimney-sweep friend Bert take the Banks children out for a stroll in the park. To the tune of “Jolly Holiday,” monochromatic trees magically bud and turn green, while people’s costumes become riotous. Even the statues come to life in one of choreographer Matthew Bourne’s clever dances.

Later, the famous “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” is performed by denizens who resemble a candy shop come to life. But it all seems so machine-made, so without the heart and soul which the show ostensibly champions.

Indeed, the evening’s best sequence, “Step in Time,” with its black-clad chimney sweeps and sensational dancing by scene-stealing Gavin Lee as Bert, is done partly in silhouette. Combine that with an interlude where toys come to threatening life (considerably watered down from the British production I saw last year) and the introduction of a wicked witch nanny nicknamed “The Holy Terror,” and you can whiff where the show might have been headed.

As it is, its main premise is the awakening of hard-nosed banker Mr. Banks to his fatherly duties. Will he bend enough to eventually fly a kite with his loving son? (Two guesses.) In the film, Mrs. Banks was a would-be suffragette, a woman of spine. Here she’s reduced to a worrywart Edwardian and the show, instead of digging for the enchantment of myths and speaking to the child in all of us, speaks to the child alone.

To be fair, librettist Julian Fellowes has injected the original film with touches of gothic humor. Ruth Gottschall’s Miss Andrew (the mean nanny) truly embodies the “brimstone and treacle” alternative to “a spoonful of sugar.” The original movie songs by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman have been smoothly augmented with additions by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe.

Director Richard Eyre does his best to integrate the various strands. Although Lee and Gottschall stand out, Ashley Brown’s Mary, Rebecca Luker’s Mrs. Banks and Daniel Jenkins’ Mr. Banks do find levels in their simplistic characters. At the performance caught, Katherine Leigh Doherty and Matthew Gumley as the kids (there are three alternating pairs) were adorable. But why they don’t pick up and leave home is an unanswered question.

-- David A. Rosenberg
Nov. 30, 2006

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