Friday, November 17, 2006

Did Critics Find Mary Poppins Practically Perfect?

Did Critics Find Mary Poppins Practically Perfect?

Last evening, the eagerly-anticipated Disney-Cameron Mackintosh stage production of Mary Poppins opened on Broadway, and critics were all over the board ranging from pure delight to clear disdain.

Offering up a rare four stars, New York Post's Clive Barnes raves: "Mary Poppins was fine as a Disney movie and is even better as this Broadway musical, imported sound and whole from London's West End. Let's play cute and call it...supercalifragilisticexpialidocious....Mary Poppins looks and sounds complete -- a perfectly engineered piece of musical theater."

Joe Dziemianowicz of New York's Daily News provides his own laurels: "It is a roof-raising, toe-tapping, high-flying extravaganza....Ashley Brown is a joy to watch as the enigmatic nanny who helps the Banks family...realize how much they need each other. Brown had me from hello -- well, from, 'Jane, don't stare, and close your mouth, Michael. We are not a codfish.' She plays Mary as stern and steely, but always has a bewitching twinkle in her eye. She sings, acts and dances gorgeously. Gavin just as captivating....Whether you're 7 or 70, Mary Poppins is a jolly holiday -- and you'll be glad you took it."

Taking note of the storyline's "dramatic heft," Richard Zoglin of Time heaps on the praise: "Mary Poppins is not just a big, eye-pleasing production; it's Disney's most endearing, human-scaled and emotionally satisfying musical yet....The show strikes a nice balance between stage dazzle...and dramatic heft with a script (by 'Gosford Park' screenwriter Julian Fellowes) that goes beyond the movie, adding material from other Travers stories....This Mary becomes a show less about children than about the loss of childhood -- and about how adults learn to be parents. Which is just what a big show needs: a big subject."

Calling Mary Poppins "fun," "tasty" and "expertly grafted," the Associated Press' Michael Kuchwara is equally dazzled: "[L]arge, and we do mean LARGE, production numbers...comprise the adventures instigated by Mary Poppins, portrayed with charm and crisp vocal power by a lovely Ashley Brown....That this human and humane story shines through all the dazzling theatrical effects demonstrates the potency of its emotional impact."

Despite calling the show a bit "overstuffed," Variety's David Rooney is mostly positive, saying that Mary Poppins "is also bursting with dazzling stagecraft, stunning design, old-fashioned storytelling virtues and genuine charm....Principals and ensemble are solid all around, with (Daniel) Jenkins providing emotional ballast as George, whose sensitization is the story's central journey. But without detracting from the engaging Brown, the show's guiding spirit is Gavin Lee's Bert, the original London cast's sole carryover."

Calling the production both "lavish and loving," Christopher Rawson at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is effusive: "[H]ere the Disney empire on which the sun never sets is on its best creative behavior. This is the good Disney....Mackintosh and company have taken care to populate this set with actual people, in the persons of the troubled Banks family, without whose substance the magical nanny and chimney sweep would be pyrotechnics empty of feeling....Ashley Brown is a skillful, starchy Mary with a lovely voice....Gavin Lee's Bert has an angular charm right in the Ray Bolger-Dick Van Dyke tradition."

Calling the show "darker and blander" than the movie, Newsday's Linda Winer is more critical: "Mary a quaint, muddled, beautiful-looking musical with plenty of spectacle but even more emotional distance....Though not as charming as Julie Andrews, Ashley Brown makes a brisk and substantial Mary Poppins....The name to remember, however, is Gavin Lee....As Bert, the genial chimney sweep, he manages a jaunty tap dance that takes him up the walls and upside-down on the ceiling. As repository of such lines as 'Chim Chim Cher-ee,' Lee treats such original songs, by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman, as classics."

Calling the show "handsome, homily-packed and rather tedious," The New York Times' Ben Brantley predictably pans the show: "When I saw it in London two years ago, Mary Poppins was a show divided between its shadowy id and its can-do super-ego, which set the prescriptions of self-help books to music. In New York it is made clear that the heart of this show is not in the starry skies to which Mary ascends in the finale -- or even among the rooftops where Mary’s B.F.F., Bert (Gavin Lee), works as a chimney sweep -- but somewhere closer to the kitchen sink."

Lest anyone reading this has a knee-jerk reaction to all things Disney and automatically dismisses this Mary Poppins, writer Jim Hill offers a fascinating, in-depth behind the scenes examination of how this miraculous show finally made its way to the stage; his story is definitely required reading.

As I've previously noted, I loved the London production and thought it was the best show I saw during the 2004-05 Theatrical Season. I already have my tickets for the Broadway incarnation in January, and I'm truly excited by the prospect of revisiting this show to see whether it stacks up against what I saw across the pond. Naturally, you can expect my own review shortly thereafter.

But in the meantime, I invite you to cast your vote in the latest Steve On Broadway poll on the right-hand side to tell me whether you'll see Mary Poppins.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
Mary Poppins' Flight On Broadway Begins Tonight (November 16, 2006)
Mary Poppins, Grey Gardens Tops Among SOB Readers (October 27, 2006)
Survey Says.... (October 23, 2006)
Mary Poppins Lands Top Five Capacity Spot With Broadway Debut (October 17, 2006)
Which New Broadway Musical Are You Most Enthusiastic About Seeing? (October 16, 2006)
Which British Hits Will Be Broadway-Bound? (September 20, 2006)
Which Broadway Musical Will Depart Next? (August 21, 2006)
Rejoice! Gavin Lee to Cross Atlantic for Mary Poppins on Broadway (May 8, 2006)
Flashback: Best of 2004-05 (May 26, 2006)
Disney Moves from Continent to Continent (May 22, 2006)

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At 17 November, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks again Steve for never letting one of my must reads of the early mornings never disappoint! And that Jim Hill article is so interesting! Thanks Steve.

At 17 November, 2006, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Since posting my original story, I've added a couple more review highlights from regular sources I use: New York Post and New York's Daily News.

However, this may very well be one of the most reviewed shows of the year as there are many more out there with praise and visceral pans.

At 09 March, 2011, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i love mary poppins!!!


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