For example, Mary and the Children: they bond strongly and convincingly around the middle of act one, and for much of what follows, the onstage business feels superfluous. A couple of new plots present themselves briefly and create some suspense: Will the kids have to crawl for Marys opposite, the dour Miss Andrew, and will George lose his irreplaceable job at the bank? But the first questions answered only minutes after its asked, and we never really doubt that George will save his position. So what we get instead of dramatic tension is spectacle stunning spectacle and wouldnt you know it, thats enough.
From a sky full of kites to a roofscape of tap-dancing chimney sweeps (one of whom dances upside down), from the rousing, cheerful song Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious to the several reprises of Chim Chim Cher-ee, Mary Poppins is just too delightful to diss. Yeah, there are noticeable gaps in the action. But what a visual and aural treat!
And what actors: Every one of them is tiptop, and an expert vocalist and dancer. As Mary, Caroline Sheen is a prim, pert perfectionist, entirely satisfied with herself and about as sexless as Queen Victoria (who also puts in an appearance). As Bert the chimney-sweep the role that Dick Van Dyke had in the movie Gavin Lee is wonderfully earnest, unswervingly happy in his high-altitude career and as comfortable with the fact that life is magical as any wide-eyed 6-year-old or Mary herself.
The wonderful Blythe Wilson is Winifred Banks, a pre-feminist housewife who gave up an acting career for her marriage, and whose inner strength and sincerity brighten any world that she enters; and Laird Mackintosh plays husband George as a victim of his own ignorance, not malicious but uninformed, not cruel but befuddled. The Banks children are brats first, then paragons of enlightened good behavior, and Rachel Izen as housekeeper Mrs. Brill is a curmudgeon with a heart of gold. In fact, everyone in this show has a heart of that metal with the exception of Miss Andrew, the mean, malicious anti-Mary played with hilarious excess by Ellen Harvey.
As to the songs, I admit to preferring those taken from the film The Perfect Nanny, A Spoonful of Sugar, Feed the Birds and a few others. But the new ones, by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, are pleasant enough, if not terribly memorable. Matthew Bournes choreography is superb at every moment, reaching its apogee perhaps when the statue Neleus (Tom Souhrada) descends from its pedestal to amaze the children and us. Richard Eyres direction is as close to perfect as these things get.
There were more than a few children at the performance that I attended, and they seemed to be enjoying themselves (even the one who cried out Yuck! when Mary and Bert chastely kissed). So Id recommend the show to anyone 7 years old or over. Yes, the subject is really psychic healing, but you dont have to be Bruno Bettelheim to enjoy a good fairy tale. Mary Poppins is that, and visually spectacular besides. Even with the occasional flaw in its dramatic architecture, its rousingly life-affirming and a lot of fun.