Sunday, February 04, 2007

Mary Poppins (The SOB Revisit) - New Amsterdam Theatre, New York, NY

Mary Poppins (The SOB Revisit) – New Amsterdam Theatre, New York, NY

***1/2 (out of ****)

Recently, I had a chance to return to Mary Poppins now that the show is on Broadway. You might recall that I was absolutely, blissfully mesmerized by the Cameron Mackintosh-Disney collaboration when I first saw it in London shortly after it opened just over two years ago.

While I still roundly enjoyed the musical, and while my fellow audience members cheered with that rapt degree of enthusiasm rarely heard, something must have happened en route during Mary Poppins’ flight over to America.

Don’t get me wrong, the book remains more faithful to P.L. Travers’ source material than the film version. The musical numbers are all still rousing. Matthew Bourne’s choreography continues to mesmerize, particularly on numbers like “Step In Time.” Bob Crowley’s set design is as magically jawdropping as I remembered it being. And Gavin Lee as Bert is better and fresher than ever.

But some of the emotional core of the show that completely captivated me seemed elusive. I certainly can’t blame it on the exquisite Rebecca Luker, who provided even more nuance to the role of Mrs. Banks than I saw across the pond, or even Ashley Brown, who -- despite the fact that when she first appeared during my performance, her arms were literally shaking as she was holding the Banks children’s patched-up “want ad” -- delivers a solid and practically terrific Mary Poppins.

The heart that seems to beat a little more faintly now is that of George Banks. In London, I saw a tender, bravura performance by David Haig, for whom you could, as Bill Clinton might say, feel his pain. Yet, through Daniel H. Jenkins' rather rote Broadway portrayal, the pain was dulled substantially while more emphasis seemed to be placed on personal business ethics.

Perhaps the producers and director Richard Eyre thought they needed just a few too many spoonfuls of sugar to make the medicine go down for American audiences. Sure, the sentimental side of me still managed to well up with tears via George’s “therapy session” with Bert. But I felt slightly cheated when the emotional depth to which I was prepared to go -- thanks to my London journey -- proved shallower.

I also felt cheated that some of the more ingenious elements of the projection design were missing, particularly in the bank setting. In London, one can see animated bankers toiling over their desks, while on Broadway, the images were all static.

Ultimately, I still enjoyed my revisit to Mary Poppins. Despite being aimed at audiences of all ages, this lovely, if not grandiose, musical continues to tell a surprisingly more complex adult story about losing one’s way and finding it again. While I enjoyed the London version more, I would still recommend seeing Mary Poppins on Broadway -- unless, of course, you’re completely incapable of letting that inner child in you ever surface.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).
Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
Broadway Grosses: It's Mary Poppins And Wicked (January 8, 2007)
SOB Poll: Most Readers Hope To Step In Time With Mary Poppins (November 27, 2006)
Did Critics Find Mary Poppins Practically Perfect? (November 17, 2006)
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 05 February, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is probably an impossible question, but do you think your response to the show would have been different if you hadn't already seen it in London? Would you have given it that extra half star?

At 05 February, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Esther - Excellent and very fair question.

While it's really hard to know what you don't know, it's very possible that I may have enjoyed the New York version more if I had not previously seen the London staging. I would have nothing to compare it to other than the original movie itself.

But, as you know, I have seen many other shows multiple times, and it usually has served to cement my love for the show (witness: Chicago or Wicked).

At 26 July, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This was my first Disney musical, my first time in the beautifully restored New Amsterdam Theatre.

I really envied all the young children, many of whom were probably seeing their first Broadway musical. I sat next to a 5-year-old boy who did pretty well given the length of the show. And his cell phone didn't go off once!

I've always been a pretty ardent Anglophile. I love London. I loved the tv series Upstairs, Downstairs. And Julian Fellowes, who wrote the script for Mary Poppins, also wrote the screenplay for Gosford Park. So he knows the British upper classes.

Again, a lot to agree with you on. I loved the special effects. I loved the choreography during Step in Time and Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. (Yes, I had to look up the spelling!) I'd previously seen Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake on DVD, and this was just as mesmerizing.

I loved the Banks family home. Really, there was so much to just look at. And Gavin Lee, wow. He brought a smile to my face whenever he was on stage. What sweetness and wit. For me, he was a real high point. I loved Ashley Brown, too, but I wasn't quite as charmed by her Mary Poppins as I was by Gavin Lee's Bert.

I wasn't really as engaged by George Banks' problems as I should have been, maybe because I knew how it would turn out in the end. Like you said, I didn't quite feel his pain as deeply as I should have. And I did find the show a little bit long.

Still, this is a pretty spectacular show and the inner Anglophile in me was pretty captivated!


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