A brave, enthusiastic audience sloshed through deluges of spring rains to pay homage to a reigning queen of sublime self-importance just because she does magical things, including turning the Banks family brats into adorable angels. And she whips through this every night to their amazement and delight while we are comfortably dining and doting, gazing at her self-congratulatory ministrations in the giant size Disneyish hit, Mary Poppins, built around her own very self-important self. And doesn’t our audience think she’s as delicious as dessert…
Mary Poppins, the show, cobbled together as a musical movie based on cantankerous P.L. Travers’s series of stories about a magical Nanny who plies her craft and her wiles with supreme confidence, was stitched together even further for the stage, manufactured into a world wide hit by the extraordinary hit machines at Disney and in Cameron Mackintosh’s shop, and is running smartly somewhere in the world this very minute fifty years after the movie opened, still enchanting little kids who bring their larger family members to see the fun, generation after generation. And the ever enthusiastic, ever over-the-top Westchester Broadway Theatre is putting on a big, splashy, brash production, giving us all their usual hundred and one percent effort, lush with costumes, ingenious with sets and devices, plinking us with assured, even outrageous performances, every song walloped, every danced pranced. It is a pleasure in itself to see an audience of so many pleased people, damp or no, in one place.
Julian Fellowes, the creator of the television smash Downton Abbey cut his teeth creating a book for the Mary Poppins musical, based on the adventures Mary Poppins leads through several of the Travers stories. The musical’s scenes take us through civilizing episodes, magical and not so, by dropping us plonk into the middle of the mayhem in the Banks house in Cherry Tree Lane in London of 1901 or thereabouts, still horse-and-carriage country. Mr. George Banks (Joseph Dellger) is a banker, very proper, very ordered. Mrs. Winifred Banks (Leisa Mather) is, or was, an actress and now is mistress of a house full of servants, plus a nanny for their two rotten children, Jane (Michelle Moughan) and Michael (Gabriel Reis) (or, alternately, Brandon Singel and Jane Shearin).
At the Banks house, nannys – nannies? – come and go, unable to cope with the children, which their father George finds preposterous. He orders an advert to be prepared to specify just what the perfect nanny needs to be. The smiling hellion children offer their own list of perfections which Daddy, Mr. Banks, tears up immediately, throws into the fireplace and Presto! – into their midst, sailing down from the heavens, is Mary Poppins (Lauren Blackman), impeccably dressed – she thinks — her magic handbag, her parrot-headed umbrella at the ready, completely in charge. She has read their requirements and is fully qualified. She is perfect. Stunned Mr. Banks retreats, as always, to his study. Stunned children are leery. Stunned Mrs. Banks and her servants remain agape.
Of course, we have already been swept up by “Chim Chim Cheree,” sung and performed by Bert (Leo Ash Evens), the very handiest of handy men and the best thing in the show, especially in the show-stopping “Step in Time” number later in the second act when Mary Poppins whisks the children to their roof top to meet Bert and all the chimney sweeps of the town. What? Shake hands with a chimney sweep? Yes, indeedy. It’s good luck.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Our musical has the original songs from the Disney film, created by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman, all show stoppers, plus new songs created by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe to help link one adventure to another. Which is what Mary Poppins does with Michael and Jane: lure them into meeting all kinds of people. Even statues. Which come alive. And toys. Which grow up and complain about certain bad behaviors they’ve suffered. There may not have been any internet or video games in 1901 London but there was Mary Poppins, a pretty good forerunner, and just what any children needed. As Mary Poppins quite well knows, of course. But – when she is not appreciated enough by the Bankses, she puts back all the magic things she took out of her magic handbag, puts up her umbrella and off she sails into the yonder. Chaos ensues.
Desperate Mr. Banks hires Miss Andrews (Jane Neuberger), the “Holy Terror” who terrified him into propriety as a child. Where Mary Poppins dosed the children with “A Spoonful of Sugar,” Miss Andrew, “The Holy Terror,” doses them with “Brimstone and Treacle.” Further calamities ensue. Mr. Banks is in danger of losing his job at the bank, throwing him into the bluest of funks. The household staff is a shambles. Everybody needs and wants Mary Poppins. And we are properly delighted when the properly appreciated perfect Nanny sails back to straighten out every little thing.
Director Richard Stafford thus has more opportunity to zip Mary Poppins about in the air at the WBT, much to the delight of an audience of thrilled children and their handlers. He also keeps his show moving as briskly as possible with clever use of cast members whisking about the ingenious settings by Steve Loftus. Derek Lockwood, costume designer, keeps them even busier in a wild array of constant changes. All of these goings on plus as many technical ploys, up, down, in, on, around and around, on stage and in the aisles, wraps audience members into the midst of theatrical delight. And a happy ending? Or two? Or three? There is even that incredible word the show invents to capture all this: SUPERCALIFRAGILISTICEXPEALIDOCIOUS. Now that everybody understands.
Mary Poppins (through July 27, 2014)
Westchester Broadway Theatre, 1 Broadway Plaza, Elmsford, New York 10523
For tickets, call 914-592-2222 or visit http://www.BroadwayTheatre.com