When I was a kid, my parents took me to see many Disney animated films at the Valentine Theater on Fordham Road in the Bronx. I saw such notable films as Bambi, Fantasia, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Dumbo, Cinderella and a whole host of others, but we rarely went to see non-animated Disney films. To watch those, I had to wait until they were aired on Sunday nights on The Wonderful World of Disney. It was on these nights when I got to see movies like The Parent Trap, Herbie the Love Bug, The Apple Dumpling Gang and Mary Poppins.
Mary Poppins held a special place in my heart not because I loved the Walt Disney film or the books by P.L. Travers upon which the movie was based. I actually fell in love with the Mary Poppins soundtrack long before I ever saw a movie. I had this vinyl disc that those of us ancient enough to remember such things used to call a record and this contraption was the keeper of many a fun song. I would play the Mary Poppins album over and over again, singing along to songs like Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, A Spoonful of Sugar, Chim Chim Cher-ee, Let’s Go Fly A Kite and Step in Time. Oh, how I loved that album and years later, I can still remember the words to each song.
Friends of mine had recently told me that I simply had to see the Broadway musical version of Mary Poppins, but I scoffed at the idea. After all, this was a kids’ tale, albeit a humorous one about a stern and hardworking banker’s two unruly children and the magical visit by an incredible nanny who somehow manages to transform the entire family into one that knows the value of time spent with each other and the meaning of humanity. But after hearing such rave reviews, when I was offered the opportunity to visit, I decided that I might as well check it out.
Our tickets were for the 8PM showing at the New Amsterdam Theatre. Located on 214 West 42nd Street, smack dab in the middle of Times Square in New York City, the New Amsterdam has a tremendous amount of history and just seeing the inside of this 100-plus year old architectural beauty was treat enough. But when we discovered just what kind of seats we were in possession of…wow! Despite the lack of leg room, I believe we just may have had the best seats in the house, finding ourselves in the Mezzanine Center, just above the lights and with a perfect view of the entire stage.
When the play began, something magical happened - an audience of equal parts children and adults suddenly transformed into an entire audience of children as we were wowed by the magic that is Mary Poppins. The sets were simply amazing and the mastery of those sets, the set changes and all the intricacies of it all deserve a great deal of credit. An entire house is transformed right before your eyes as we change from scene to scene, sometimes focusing on the main house, sometimes the children’s room, sometimes the kitchen, sometimes the bank, sometimes the park…and of course, the roof.
Casting for this musical was incredible. Laura Michelle Kelly is hands down the best Mary Poppins I have ever seen (I venture to say, even better than Julie Andrews). She was incredibly and endearingly believable in the role and an absolute joy to behold. Her delivery was absolutely perfect and her voice was magical. Christian Borle portrayed the role of Bert, jack of all trades and old friend of Mary Poppins. Borle reminded me of a very young Dick Van Dyke who immortalized the role in the Disney film version. Mrs. Brill the cook and housekeeper was portrayed hilariously by Valerie Boyle and Karl Kenzler and Megan Osterhaus were terrific as George and Winifred Banks. The children in this showing of Mary Poppins were perfectly portrayed by Cassady Leonard and Andrew Shipman.
Not strictly an adaptation of the movie or the book, this version of Mary Poppins seems to combine the best of both worlds. This version of the tale offers us insight into why Mr. Banks is so hard on his children and reveals a different side of Mrs. Banks. It expands upon the movie and film in a way that is delightfully different and yet perfectly acceptable. Some of the songs from the film have been deleted like Stay Awake and I Love to Laugh (a song from a scene in the film in which a tea party takes place on the ceiling; a scene that I was rather happy to find deleted from the musical). Some were replaced by entirely new songs and one particular replacement song, Practically Perfect, was actually a ditty that was deleted from the film and revitalized for this musical.
My favorite sequences involved the new and improved version of Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, performed twice in the musical accompanied by an amazing dance that anyone without incredible coordination could never pull off by themselves, let alone with an ensemble and Step in Time, an incredibly upbeat song and dance number featuring Mary Poppins, her two charges, Bert and numerous chimney sweeps. And although I have cited these three song and dance numbers as being my favorite, I can honestly say that I loved them all. I was even caught singing and tapping my feet to more than a few.
There were many times during the musical where you wondered just how they pulled off one stunt or another, but an observant person could pick out the trap doors and lines that made these things possible. Still, you couldn’t help but be tickled by Bert climbing up walls or Mary Poppins’ ability to pull the most enormous items out of her small travel bag. The biggest “WOW” moment takes place toward the end of the musical when Mary Poppins takes flight into the audience…yes, I said the audience! I let out an excited, “COOOL!” and then sat fascinated, eyes wide, mouth agape like some awestruck little girl reliving my childhood.
When it was all said and done, I had clapped my hands raw, a sure sign that I truly believed all my friends were right - the Broadway Musical version of Mary Poppins is an experience that no one, adult or child, should ever miss out on. This is a musical I would happily see again and again with no sign of ever growing bored with the story or the song and dance numbers. Everywhere I go I tell everyone I see about the experience. This is a musical that will delight the entire family, young and old!