Last Friday night I found myself at the Fabulous Fox Theatre sitting in front of a little boy with one thing on his mind: figuring out exactly how to pronounce the word supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.
landed at the Fox April 29 and is staying until the wind changes on May 16. Based on P.L. Travers’ series and the 1964 Walt Disney film, the musical combines the adventures of the ever-magical nanny Mary Poppins (Caroline Sheen) with a more modern focus on the Banks’ family dynamics.
The children, Jane (Bailey Grey) and Michael Banks (Bryce Baldwin), are constantly misbehaving, leaving their mother (Blythe Wilson) distraught and their father (Laird Mackintosh) frazzled. At their wits’ end, the Banks search for a new nanny until Mary Poppins appears on their doorstep.
From the moment she arrives, Mary Poppins turns the Banks’ household upside down while transforming Jane and Michael into well-mannered children. The two soon realize that with Mary Poppins, taking a walk in the park can morph into strolling inside a picture depicting a vibrant yellow brick road, colorful flowers galore and statues that leap off their pedestals to join them — painted by Bert (Gavin Lee), a sidewalk artist, chimney sweep and an old friend of Mary Poppins.
While Mary Poppins is with Jane and Michael, Mr. and Mrs. Banks are having problems of their own. Mr. Banks, a banker, is suspended indefinitely without pay for denying a loan to a lucrative investor. Mrs. Banks struggles with her husband’s expectations of her while dealing with his inability to be open with his feelings.
The second act revolves around the return of Mary Poppins and Mr. Banks’ worrying about the future of his job. The family drama dominates the majority of the story line, developing a more mature plot in lieu of the magical antics of the first act. Reality forces Mr. and Mrs. Banks to confront the fact that they might not have a secure future. While the second act develops key ‘grown-up’ themes, some moments wax sentimental like a cheap romance — overdone and, at times, sappy.
Throughout the show, the cast sounded remarkably bright and cheerful, but when singing solo, some of the weaker voices were overpowered by the orchestra accompaniment. The best pieces were the adaptations and covers of the older songs from Mary Poppins
. The adaptations of “Jolly Holiday,” “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and “Step in Time” featured phenomenal costumes and dances that rivaled the originals.
The newly written songs disappointed me when juxtaposed with the classics; with the exception of “Practically Perfect,” the new songs hit off-notes in the context of the musical, sounding too serious during what had been lighter comedic moments.
Sheen and Lee recreated the mysterious connection between Mary Poppins and Bert seamlessly. Sheen channeled a self-assured, more snarky than sweet interpretation of Julie Andrews’ classic character.
Lee excelled in his difficult job of fashioning Bert’s personality for himself rather than copying Dick Van Dyke. Instead, Lee drew off of Dyke’s initial characterization for inspiration and brought out all of Bert’s quirks, charm and charisma with a distinctive British accent shining through.
The set added character throughout the show. Beginning simply enough with cartoonish, grayscale backgrounds, the stage transformed into a pop-out book with folded flaps opening to reveal the inside of the Banks’ house. The sitting room, Jane and Michael’s bedroom, the kitchen and the roof all included multi-dimensional elements, with furniture zooming on and offstage as if by magic.
was practically perfect in every way. The actors captured the wonder of the movie with the power of a live musical, captivating the audience and sending us back into our childhood. For two hours, we once again wholeheartedly believed that Mary Poppins could do everything and pull anything out of her carpet bag.
I left the theatre with my mouth still hanging open, awed from Mary Poppins’ grand exit flying over the crowd and into the stars. To my amazement, the prim and proper voice of Mary Poppins herself echoed in my head as I walked outside: “Close your mouth, you’re not a codfish.”
— Contact Steffi Delcourt