Many psychologists — and parents — bemoan the loss of childhood, where kids grow up too fast, and trade their Barbie dolls for Britney Spears when they are barely out of diapers. Tweens often listen to music with explicit lyrics, and refuse to see G-rated movies. But the Broadway Mary Poppins is the perfect antidote, appealing to teens and their younger siblings, and even grandparents, who will remember taking their children to see the movie. This is truly a family musical, in the best sense of the word.
The magic of the show starts before you even sit down; Disney evicted its long-running hit, The Lion King (which moved just a few blocks away) to use the opulent New Amsterdam Theatre, a landmark art nouveau house on 42nd Street. And the magic continues throughout the show, offering a flying title character, a park that comes to life, and a disappearing ‘holy terror’.
That holy terror, Mr. Banks’ especially nasty nanny, and nursery toys that assault the Banks children, have led to charges of a ‘dark’ Mary Poppins. But there is nothing here that will really frighten a child over age 6, the intended audience. Many people bring younger children, but since the show runs two-and-a-half hours, kids younger than 6 will find their attention spans tested.
The inspired direction, by Richard Eyre and Matthew Bourne, includes the attic nursery, which, for some scenes, detaches from the top of the house and settles center stage; Bert dancing up the walls and upside down across the ceiling; flashes of light that look like rain. And Mary flies, not just across the stage, but at the end, up, up, into the balcony.
There was only one misstep for me: At the ending, a shooting star illuminates the ceiling. That was a bit too “World of Disney”.
If you are a fan of the movie (and who isn’t?), you will find most of the familiar songs: A Spoonful of Sugar, Feed the Birds, Supercalif…The only one we missed was I Love to Laugh, but having the bankers levitate was probably too much of a logistical nightmare. The handful of new songs, like Temper, Temper (featuring those animated toys) are not up to the original score, but every song can’t be a winner. And if you know the movie quite well, you might miss Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke in the leads, but Ashley Brown and Gavin Lee (who was in the London production) are “Practically Perfect” and they magically inhabit their roles.
One of the themes in P. L. Travers’ book is the loss of childhood. How quickly time flies is made poignant by the casting; Rebecca Luker, who was Maria in The Sound of Music and Marian in The Music Man, is now the matronly Winifred Banks. My 15-year-old remembers seeing her in those other shows just a few short years ago. The passage from ingénue to mother (and child to teen) is so fast. But maybe, seeing this Mary Poppins will remind you of your own childhood.
Where: New Amsterdam Theatre, 214 West 42nd Street, between Broadway and Eighth Avenue
How much: Tickets, $20-$110
For more info: (212) 307-4100; www.disneyonbroadway.com; www.marypoppins.com
NOTE: A revisit to The Lion King confirms that it has ably adjusted to its new digs, at the Minskoff Theatre. The staging is just as spectacular and the replacement actors fill their roles superbly.