Like Something is Brewing and ‘Bout to Begin: Thoughts on Mary Poppins

It’s pretty much a well-known fact that Disney is synonymous with magic – that magical quality that leaves visitors to their various theme parks as well as those who have watched their films in a state of gleeful wonder. The same can also be said for the young and the young at heart that experience a stage adaptation of their films. Mary Poppins has a wealth of this Disney magic, coupled with a heartwarming tale of a disjointed family finding their way back to one another with some guidance from that “practically perfect” nanny. While it has been a few years since I last saw the production, the announcement that the show would be closing on March 3, 2013 prompted me to write this blog – I fully intend to return to see the show, and perhaps also attend the final performance.

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The first time I saw Mary Poppins was on October 4, 2007, roughly a year into its run playing at the New Amsterdam Theatre – I had obtained a ticket (per usual in the Fall) via the TDF ticket raffle table at the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS Flea Market & Auction. The film has always been one of my favorite Disney films, and I had been looking forward to seeing how it would be adapted for the stage and the changes that were required for the stage. Firstly, there were new songs written for the stage, some added/changed lyrics to the existing songs and some of the songs that were in the film were not included in the stage production. Also, while the overall story remains the same, some elements were changed to bring the tone a few shades darker (but not too much, after all, this still a Disney tale) than the film, which was more whimsical; the changes were necessary and made sense for a two act musical, and probably would not have worked as well for the film.

The scenic design was astounding, with the set of No. 17 Cherry Tree Lane moving fluidly from the living room to the children’s nursery and then to the rooftop, as well as the inventive 3D appearance of the bank at which Mr. Banks works, and the fanciful park sequence during “Jolly Holiday”. The choreography was also amazing, especially the sequences for “Step in Time” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”. To this day, I am perplexed how Spring Awakening won the Tony Award for Best Choreography over Mary Poppins. For the record, I did see Spring Awakening, and found much of the choreography lacking, as it looked (to me at least) like the cast was randomly flailing around the stage. I have been informed by friends are knowledgeable about such things that the choreography for Spring Awakening was an example of modern dance; I suppose I’m more old school about stage choreography.

But I digress.

As expected, there were many magical moments that were recreated on stage as they had been in the film, such as Mary Poppins’ “it’s bigger on the inside” carpet bag from where a multitude of items are extracted, and the aforementioned dance sequence for “Step in Time” (with an added thrill of Bert tap dancing up the side of the proscenium of the stage and upside down), and of course the most magical moment of all (and I’m pretty sure everyone has either seen the stage production or the TV commercial for the musical, so it’s not that much of a spoiler) – Mary Poppins making her final exit by flying across the stage, then above the audience. I will say that I had not seen the TV commercial (and I don’t think that bit was included in the commercial) and I vividly remember being absolutely awestruck the first time I saw this – while I had seen her fly across the stage earlier in the show, I had been truly unprepared (though I probably should have deduced it would happen) to see her actually fly (and of course, she was on a wire, which was visible from the lighting around her) above the audience from the stage to the balcony.

The casts I’ve seen were astounding and truly look like they’re having the time of their lives on stage – Ashley Brown and Gavin Lee, the original Mary Poppins and Bert were amazing and had a great rapport with one another. Their respective successors, Laura Michelle Kelly (who had originated the role in London) and Christian Borle were equally amazing. I did not stage door that night, but did on my subsequent visits to the show – the stage door experiences were always wonderful, with mostly young children (more girls than boys on the occasions I’ve waited at the stage door) and their parents. The cast was always happy to sign playbills, chat with the kids and pose for photos.

Clockwise from top left: Ashley Brown, Gavin Lee, Christian Borle & Laura Michelle Kelly

Clockwise from top left: Ashley Brown, Gavin Lee, Christian Borle & Laura Michelle Kelly

It’s a shame that the show is closing, though six years is a respectable run (especially in this day and age when some productions have significantly shorter runs) – it’s one of the few family friendly musicals remaining on Broadway, and its six-year run is a testament to its longevity. I have a feeling that when Mary Poppins flies off into the night for the last time on March 3, 2013, a little of that Disney magic will also be leaving Broadway.