Who knew Mary Poppins was the original Super Nanny? At least that is how über-Broadway producer Cameron Macintosh and Academy Award-winning screenwriter Julian Fellowes interpreted Disney’s classic 1964 film and P.L. Travers’ original series of books. The successful Broadway musical adaptation just kicked off a national tour with a four-month run in Los Angeles, but the simplistic psychoanalysis of 27 Cherry Tree Lane’s patriarch George Banks (Karl Kenzler) and the down-home homilies issued by Mary Poppins (Ashley Brown) tend to overshadow the spectacle and fun.
Mary Poppins traditionalists, beware. This is not a direct recreation of the film, which memorably starred Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. Musical numbers like ”Spoonful of Sugar” and ”Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” have been moved out of their original order but still remain in the show. In the case of ”Super…”, it’s greatly improved on the stage, eliminating the silly animated polo riders and centering it instead on a mythical Mrs. Corry (”the oldest woman in the world,” played by Q. Smith) and her world of magical letters. Unfortunately, ”Spoonful” loses a lot of its magic with the song’s locale swapped out of the nursery and into the kitchen.
One omission that’s greatly missed is Uncle Albert’s mid-air tea party. Without Albert’s ”I Love to Laugh,” the show must rely on chimney-sweeping Bert’s ”Step in Time” for gravity-defying antics. This number is by far the best of the show, especially when Bert (played by the original Broadway star Gavin Lee) takes his exquisite tap-dancing up the sides and the ceiling of the theater’s proscenium. If my 6-year-old’s wide-eyed astonishment during the entire number is any indication, ”Step in Time” might single-handedly re-invigorate the art of the tap dance. Also in the plus column: Brown is perfectly cast in the title role and my daughter loved watching her fly through the auditorium, exiting into the ceiling.
For all the changes to the original film, the new elements are seldom improvements. While my daughter let out an ”Oh my God” when the first toy came to life during ”Playing the Game,” I couldn’t understand why the new number wasn’t more jovial and less terrifying. And the stage version of Mary Poppins spends way too much time on Mrs. Banks’ (Megan Osterhaus) identity crisis and Mr. Banks’ unhappy childhood. Although the appearance of Mr. Banks’ old nanny, the ”holy terror” Miss Andrews, showcased the exquisite voice of Ellen Harvey (who also plays three other characters), I didn’t really care for the nanny showdown that followed. Plus, do we really need to know what made Mr. Banks such a miserable perfectionist? What I wanted was more magic and less psychology. Isn’t that why we go to the theater? Grade: B
(Ticket info: www.CenterTheatreGroup.org or 213 972-4400)