Disney’s Mary Poppins has had a long journey to musical theater. The character of Mary Poppins was created in 1934 by P.L. Travers, as the title character in a series of eight children’s books. In 1964, Disney adapted the character and books into a musical film starring Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins. Combining live actors and animated characters, the film became a beloved family classic. Mary Poppins was Julie Andrew’s first role, which has not only become her most iconic role, but also earned her an Oscar for Best Actress. In 2004, Disney developed a stage adaptation of the musical for London’s West End Theatre, which ultimately found a home on Broadway in 2006.
Mary Poppins tells the story of the Banks Family who live at Number 17 Cherry Tree Lane. Father George Banks (Michael Dean Morgan), is a hard-working banker who has a cold, distant relationship with his wife and children. All George wants is “precision and order” in his home. Wife Winifred Banks (Elizabeth Broadhurst) is a former actress struggling to fit into her husband’s higher social circle. She feels as though she is failing in her roles as wife and mother. Their two children, Jane (Cherish Myers) and Michael (Zachary Mackiewicz), are hellions, terrorizing both the house staff and the revolving door of nannies unable to handle their rowdy behavior.
We learn at the beginning of the show that the Banks’ have gone through 6 nannies in the last 4 months. George tasks Winifred with placing a newspaper ad to find the perfect nanny for his children, at the lowest wage. Jane and Michael insist on placing the ad they created instead. They read the lengthy description to their parents, requiring a nanny that is witty, fairly pretty, plays games and brings them sweets. No sooner have they finished reading their ad does Mary Poppins (Rachel Wallace) magically appears in the house, ready to take the job. Mary immediately gets to work, setting her schedule and the rules of the house despite the Banks’ protest. Mary makes it clear that she is in control and “practically perfect”.
Jane and Michael assume that Mary will be like all the other nannies they have run over, but are immediately taken by her seemingly bottomless satchel containing a full-sized hat rack, a large house plant, a mirror, tea set and other household accessories. She even magically creates a bed for herself in the children’s room. This, of course, is not enough however to change the children’s habits and attitudes. Mary takes them on to play a game of “walk in the park” which only makes them more irate. At the park, Mary introduces the children to her friend Bert (Nicolas Dromard), a painter who brings the park to life in brilliant colors. Mary’s stay starts to change the attitudes of everyone in the house. Each member of the family begins to see things in a new way. Unfortunately, change is not easy for anyone and the children begin to fall back into their own ways. Mary told the family that she would stay as long as she was needed. She has helped guide the children but knows they must learn some lessons for themselves. Mary unexpected leaves, via umbrella of course, leaving the family without a nanny yet again. Winifred, in an attempt to do something that will make George proud, finds George’s childhood nanny Miss Andrew (Q. Smith). Unfortunately, Miss Andrew is no Mary Poppins. Instead of Mary’s “spoonful of sugar”, Miss Andrew prefers “brimstone and treacle”. Some lessons must be learned the hard way.
Mary Poppins is a thoroughly engaging, beautifully produced piece of musical theater. The Banks’ house emerges from the flat backdrop, opening like a dollhouse. Much like Dorothy’s trip from Kansas to Oz, the grey, drab park is transformed into an ever-changing, eye-popping neon wonderland. Destroyed kitchens are magically reorganized at the snap of a finger, children’s toys and park statues come to life and nannies take flight!
Rachel Wallace effortlessly tackles the unenviable task of stepping into Mary Poppins’ “sensible shoes”. She brings Mary to life with all the wit, wry sensibilities and love we have come to expect from the character. Nicolas Dromard seems to have a lot of fun as Bert, our narrator, painter, chimney sweep, etc., hamming it up in the spotlight and on the sidelines. Despite the joy of watching Mary take flight more than once during the show, Nicolas/Bert gets the show stopping feat of “defying gravity” in a very unique way. Michael Dean Morgan and Elizabeth Broadhurst do a fine job portraying a married couple at a crossroads in their lives, trying to redefine themselves. Cherish Myers and Zachary Mackiewicz were excellent as the nightmarish and eventual loving children. Blake Segal and Tregoney Shepherd has us cracking up as the continuously put-upon house staff. Despite her small part in the show, Q. Smith was a highlight for me, playing the “holy terror” Miss Andrew. She is not someone I would want to cross!
All of the classic Mary Poppins” songs are here for your enjoyment, “Chim Chim Cher-ee”, “A Spoonful of Sugar”, “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”. My two favorite numbers were “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”, an incredibly riotous number including most of the ensemble, which looked much like a performance of “Y.M.C.A.” and “Step in Time” which again featured much of the ensemble as a chimney sweep stomp crew.
I highly recommend Mary Poppins to anyone looking for a family-friendly show or even just a joyful evening of entertainment. Mary Poppins is truly the first “Supernanny” of our times. Go see the show to find out why!
Mary Poppins is playing at the Ahmanson Theatre through September 2, 2012.
Photos by Deen Van Meer