Mary Poppins touches down at the Opera House

Mary Poppins touches down at the Opera House
By JEFFREY GANTZ  |  February 24, 2011

Mary Poppins at Boston Opera House
BODY LANGUAGE As if it weren’t hard enough just to say, “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”
"A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down," Julie Andrews sang in Walt Disney's 1964 movie-musical adaptation of Mary Poppins. The medicine in P.L. Travers's original children's stories — eight volumes spanning the years 1934–1988 — was more like a rum punch. One lump or two might have done it no harm, but Disney emptied the bowl, sweetening Travers's wry whimsy with animated sequences and improbably cute kids and life lessons about giving your tuppence to the birds and not the Fidelity Fiduciary Bank. Now the 2004 Disney stage musical — which has spent more time on Broadway than Mary ever did with the Banks family — has blown into the Opera House for an extended (through March 20) visit. With additions from the original stories and some underwhelming new songs (by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe), it's less saccharine than the movie. Still, if you like your Mary Poppins straight up, you'll want to stick to the books.

The set-up at Number Seventeen Cherry-Tree Lane closely matches the movie: George Banks too busy with his banking to mind his family, children Jane and Michael running wild, Katie Nanna the latest nanny to stalk out at short notice, wife Winifred (here a former actress rather than a suffragette) at a loss, Mary Poppins to the rescue. The tea party on the ceiling with Uncle Albert is gone (would have been hard to stage); the "Jolly Holiday with Mary" now takes place in the park (Regent's?), with the statue of Neleus ("The Marble Boy," from Mary Poppins Opens the Door) frolicking about. And "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" has been moved from the race course to Mrs. Corry's sweet shop (which here also sells "ounces of conversation," as in the "Nellie-Rubina" episode from Mary Poppins Comes Back), with everybody spelling out the letters in "YMCA"-like body language.

So far so good. And though Mary descends into Disney drivel when she declares, "I can't help the children if they won't let me," then leaves at the end of the first act, that allows Winifred to bring in her husband's old nanny, "Brimstone and Treacle" Miss Andrew (another welcome addition from Mary Poppins Comes Back). But when George is suspended without pay at the bank because he lent money to community stalwart Mr. Northbrook rather than the hedge-fund-flashy Von Hussler, well, you know where that's going. And the big finish is a new song called "Anything Can Happen If You Let It." Wasn't Wednesday on the old Mickey Mouse Club TV show "Anything Can Happen" day?

If only anybody could sing at the Opera House without amplification. The press-night Jane (Paige Simunovich) and Michael (Cade Canon Ball) sounded particularly shrill and nasal, and the sentimental script keeps them and their parents (Michael Dean Morgan and Blythe Wilson) on platitude lockdown. Admiral Boom (Michael McCarty) and Miss Lark (Debra Cardona) have nothing to do, but Rachel Izen's Mrs. Brill channels Hermione Baddeley to great effect, Steffanie Leigh is even rosier-cheeked than Julie Andrews (with almost as big and beautiful a voice), and Nicolas Dromard is less exaggerated than Dick Van Dyke (same dodgy North American accent, however). Apart from being formulaic and overpolished, the dance numbers are infectiously kinetic, particularly "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" and "Step in Time" (where Dromard walks up the side wall and, upside down, across the ceiling, at one point telling the audience, "This is harder than it looks").

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Related: Fall Classical Preview: The power of music, Fall Dance Preview: Kick up your heels!, Photos: Boston Ballet's Fancy Free, More more >
  Topics: Theater , Opera House, Mary Poppins, Boston Theater
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