Home > Cynthia Citron, Theatre > Not necessary to make Mary Poppins extra-Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

Not necessary to make Mary Poppins extra-Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

November 18, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

By Cynthia Citron

LOS ANGELES — Despite the continuous roars of approval from the jazzed-up opening night crowd at the Ahmanson, Mary Poppins, in the long run, is a bit of a disappointment.  And I DO mean in the long run.  At three hours, the production is at least an hour too long: there are too many unnecessary scenes, too much repetition (everybody sings nearly everything twice), and for the most part, the dialogue and the songs are undecipherable to the naked ear.

But first let’s talk about the good parts.  The voices of the transplanted Broadway cast are extraordinarily compelling.  And the choreography is exciting and delightful throughout.  You can never have too much delightful dancing!  (Or, apparently, too many choreographers—Matthew Bourne, Stephen Mear, and George Stiles are all credited for the many dance numbers.)  Moreover, Ashley Brown makes a superbly proper and engaging Mary Poppins, both starchy and sweet.  And Gavin Lee is a pleasant Bert, the Chimney Sweep, but personality-wise, he’s no Dick Van Dyke.  And even though it replicates the movie performance, does he really need to sing “Chim Chim Cher-ee” three times?

All the much-loved songs by the Jewish brothers/ partners Richard and Robert Sherman are there, and they are beautifully rendered.  But the seven new songs, six “adapted” songs, plus 10 reprises provided by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe are much too much of a muchness.  And Julian Fellowes’ charming original book is not improved by the addition of Cameron Macintosh’s extraneous subplots and characters.  (For example, does the story really need a “bad Nanny” who mirrors Mary Poppins’ rendition of “A Spoonful of Sugar” with a chilling “Brimstone and Treacle” number? Twice?)  On the other hand, the chorus of bankers singing “Precision and Order” and Mary Poppins singing to the children about how she is “Practically Perfect” turn out to be felicitous and joyful add-ons.

Karl Kenzler and Megan Osterhaus are well cast as the rigid Edwardian patriarch and the suppressed, accommodating wife, and Osterhaus has a particularly pleasing voice as she sings what it’s like “Being Mrs. Banks.”  The two children, Jane and Michael Banks, however, though cute and energetic, are entirely unintelligible.  Their piping voices emerge as high-pitched shouting and their words are lost in delivery.   Bailey Grey played Jane  and Carter Thomas played Michael on opening night.  In future performances they will rotate with Katie Balen and  and Bryce Baldwin in those roles.

Director Richard Eyre keeps the multitude moving, and the occasional moments of lag-time are offset by Howard Harrison’s flashy lighting design and Bob Crowley’s continually changing scenic design and costumes.

 Although I said earlier that you can’t have too much delightful dancing, I’m not sure that the dancing statues in the park and the dancing toys in the bedroom are absolutely necessary.  But the tap-dancing chimney sweeps and Mary, Bert, and the children with their colorful twirling umbrellas are standouts in “Step in Time.”  And the entire ensemble exploding into “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” absolutely stops the show and is, all by itself, worth the price of admission.

 A spectacularly pleasing one-time addition to the show on opening night was the appearance of Dick Van Dyke, brought onstage during the curtain calls to symbolically pass the torch to Gavin Lee, as a worthy Bert, some 45 years after Van Dyke had immortalized the role in the original 1964 Disney movie.

It was surprising, though, that there were not a lot of children at the opening performance.  While there is much in “Mary Poppins” to enchant them, I guess three hours is a long time to ask any child to sit still.  Or any adult, either, for that matter.

Mary Poppins will continue at the Ahmanson Theatre, at the Los Angeles Music Center, 135 N. Grand Ave., Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m., and Sundays at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. through February 7.  Call (213) 972-4400 for tickets and full performance schedule.

Citron is Los Angeles bureau chief for San Diego Jewish World




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