Archive for the ‘Mary Poppins’ Category

From screen to stage, Mary Poppins flies high

October 25, 2009

Mary Poppins is undeniably Walt Disney’s crowning achievement on screen. The beloved 1964 fantasy blending live action and animation received 13 Oscar nominations and won for five, including Julie Andrews as best actress in the title role of an early 1900s nanny for a well-off but emotionally poor London family of four splintered by the banker father’s career myopia.

But even if Mary Poppins is one of your favorite films — and for many, it is — there’s also no denying the greatness of its stage version, which is both faithful to the film (and P.L. Travers’ stories) and far different from it.

That version is showing for three weeks at Houston’s Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, in a splendid touring production starring the show’s stalwart stars from Broadway, Ashley Brown as take-charge Mary and Gavin Lee as helpful chimney sweep Bert.

It’s a sensational show, substituting the creativity of live-on-stage theatrical magic for the animation and SPFX of the film, while reworking the story with new characters, new character arcs, new twists and — most importantly — new revisions of the song score. That means dropping such numbers as I Love to Laugh, Sister Suffragette and Stay Awake while adding grand new ones such as Cherry Tree Lane, The Perfect Nanny, Practically Perfect, Precision and Order and Anything Can Happen.

The touring production in Houston is spot-on throughout, with minor exceptions. The old Bird Woman, for instance, is almost frightening in her in-your-face command to “feed the birds,” whereas the film’s original was sweet and plaintive, in keeping with the tender song of that name. And it’s hard for Step in Time to have the same boisterous derring-do on a flat stage as in the film (shot on mock rooftops on a sound stage and dressed up with effects to look quite thrilling). But Bert’s gravity-defying walk around the proscenium’s frame makes up for it.

Besides, that’s mere quibbling for a show that’s practically perfect in every way. You’re not going to see better stars than these two originals, with Lee (who originated the role in London) giving Bert such nice-guy charm and smile-flashing brilliance, and with Brown turning Mary into a more vain, theatrical, fiercely self-assured and downright funny nanny than Julie Andrews could with the film’s version.

On stage, Mary trades warm motherliness¬† for inspiring indomitability. She’s not just cheeky — she’s vividly hard-charging, and I love her. This is one character rewrite¬† which really works.

Megan Osterhaus also shines as this show’s more grounded and warm Mrs. Banks, a sometimes melancholy woman who gave up an acting career to be wife and mother, and who projects so much love to her husband and children. And Ellen Harvey is an outrageous comic delight as the devilish Miss Andrew, a brief substitute for Mary Poppins, with her wicked repressiveness and fiercely operatic bursts of bombast.

Even without a ticket, you can savor some of this show via the latest Mary Poppins DVD. Its two-disc 45th anniversary edition includes a complete stage performance of Step in Time and a 48-minute documentary on the making of the stage show, including interviews with Brown and Lee, the two stars you can now see in Houston.

So step lively and step in time to see the show during its Houston engagement — running through Nov. 8 — or elsewhere on the road across America. You may fall in love with Mary Poppins all over again, and in new and most delightful ways.

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DVD review: ‘Mary Poppins’ 45th anniversary sports lavish looks at grand stage show

January 27, 2009

If you’re a longtime Mary Poppins fan and already have one of its earlier editions on DVD, chances are you’re wondering if you should bother with the new 45th anniversary version, just out from Disney. And here’s your answer:

There’s probably not enough new content to merit a full purchase, but there’s definitely enough to merit taking a look via a rental. That’s because this Mary Poppins transcends the story’s origins in books, plays and on the big screen to launch a loving look at its recent stage incarnation as an impressively elaborate musical which expands the film’s story. And that musical may be coming your way on its national tour.

A 48-minute featurette on the DVD’s second disc is both informative and richly entertaining, with interviews of the stage musical’s two stars (Laura Michelle Kelly and Gavin Lee) at Sardi’s restaurant in New York City, mixed with footage of co-composer Richard Sherman (in California) and the show’s new English composers (from a home in France) as they collaborate long-distance. And their creative process gives credence to the Sherman brothers’ song Spoonful of Sugar, hich avows that for every job that must be done there is an element of fun. Lots of fun, in this case.

On the downside, there’s theater-crowd gushing about producer Cameron Mackintosh, which comes across as sucking-up irrelevancy — especially when the average viewer doesn’t know this Cameron from James Cameron. I’m not saying the veteran producer doesn’t deserve credit, but it shouldn’t approach this level of fawning exaltation.

More enjoyable in the new DVD featurette are generous looks at the stage production itself, which truly dazzles, looking as colorful and magical as much of the ultimate big-screen triumph of Walt Disney, who died just two years after its 1964 release. There’s even a full-length (about six-minute) number, also on disc two, showing Step in Time as it’s performed on stage. Stage production drawings also are featured.

All this stage-setting has me salivating for a national tour stop of the Mary Poppins stage musical in Houston this October — and believe me, I’ll be there. Meanwhile, I’m savoring the fantasy and fun of this grand movie musical, and reminding myself that classy family entertainment such as this can be truly timeless.

So thanks to you Walt, author P. L. Travers, screen stars Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, composers the Sherman brothers and so many others. In creating this crowning achievement, you’ve shown how supercalifragilisticexpialidocious entertainment can be.