to r: Michelle Moughan (as Jane Banks), Leo Ash Evens (as Bert), Brandon Singel
(as Michael Banks) and Lauren Blackman (as Mary Poppins) Photos by
By Edward Lieberman
Poppins hitched a ride on the East Wind to Elmsford last week, and promised to
stay until the wind changed. Which is a good thing because the meteorologists
at the Westchester Broadway Theatre, which is celebrating its 40th Anniversary
on July 9th, assure us that the wind will not shift until July 27th!
a spoiler alert: this is not your parents’ Mary Poppins: the
immortal 1964 film with Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. As we all
learned last year in the film, Saving Mr. Banks, Travers did not want
her book made into a musical film, and famously did not want Julie Andrews to
play the lead, either (Ms. Andrews went on to win the Academy Award for Best
Actress for her portrayal of Ms. Travers’ “short, plump lady”). Enraged by what
she considered disrespect for her work by Disney, Travers granted rights to
develop a stage adaptation of her stories to theatrical producer Cameron
MacKintosh on condition that no one from the film production was to be involved
with the creation of the stage musical and further that only an English-born
writer was to be used on the project. Accordingly, Julian Fellowes (writer of Downton
Abbey) was called upon to write the show’s book, and although Mackintosh
and the Disney company collaborated so that the show could use the songs
written by Richard and Robert Sherman for the movie, the Shermans were not
permitted to write additional numbers for the show (additional musical numbers
were written by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe). The stage version proved to
be as successful as the film, running for six years and 2,619 performances,
closing just over a year ago to make way for Disney’s Aladdin.
book is closer to Travers’ style and sensibilities and focuses on more adult
themes than the film, including the relationship and backstories of the
parents: father George is a distracted and frustrated bank loan officer who was
ignored as a child by his parents and brought up by an abusive nanny.
Mother Winifred was an actress forced to give up her career by George when they
got married. George recreates his childhood by ignoring his children, Jane and
Michael, who misbehave and terrorize a succession of nannies in an effort to
attract their parents‘ attention. When the latest nanny flees,Winifred asks
George to let her take over the children, but George will have none of it
because, in Victorian England, “the best people” hire nannies. Enter Mary
Poppins, flying in on the East wind with umbrella and magical satchel in tow!
all does not go “spit-spot” initially. When Mary takes the children to the bank
(which takes place much earlier here than in the film), her meddling causes
George to remember his humanity and to make a risky loan decision that results
in his being suspended. This causes Mary to leave, which throws the Banks
household into an existential crisis, as George worries about losing not only
his job but his house, as well (Travers’ book was written at the height of the
Depression). Winifred, forbidden to take on the child-rearing herself, scores
what she thinks is a coup by finding and hiring George’s childhood nanny, Miss
Andrew (a/k/a “The Holy Terror”). Miss Andrew counters Mary’s “Spoonful of
Sugar” with a child-rearing strategy of her own: “Brimstone and Treacle.” Only
then does Mary return, conquer and banish Miss Andrew, and restore everything
to its proper place, including the Banks children and parents.
is a lot to take in (and takes almost three hours), but the cast, with a
considerable assist from inventive and versatile sets and special effects,
softens the hard edges of Travers‘ severe characterizations and, after a draggy
first act, lifts the spirits of all in attendance.
performs "Step In Time"
strength of the production lies in the ensemble cast, which, when called upon
to sing and dance en masse, are outstanding. That said, there are, as always, a
few standouts. Lauren Blackman, as Mary Poppins, has large shoes to fill, but
does so admirably. She bears a strong resemblance to Julie Andrews, both in
appearance and voice (though perhaps a bit lower in octave), and handles her
flying duties with aplomb. Jan Neuberger, as the villain of the piece, Miss
Andrew, steals her scenes, displaying great vocal range and menace. Unlike the
movie’s parental caricatures, Leisha Mather, as Winifred, and Joe Dellger, as
George, plumb the depths of despair and frustration at the societal pressures
and constrained roles of men and women in Edwardian society (“A Man Has
Dreams,” “Being Mrs. Banks”).
Blackman (as Mary Poppins) Gabriel Reis and Jane Shearin
(as Michael & Jane Banks) and Laura Cable (as Bird Woman)
in "Feed the Birds".
standout, in a small role, was Laura Cable, who sang the poignant “Feed the
Birds” in a duet with Ms. Blackman. Leo Ash Evens, as Bert danced very well and
sang serviceably; conversely, Jane Shearin, who played Jane in the performance
this reviewer attended (played in alternate performances by Michelle Moughan)
and Brandon Singel as Michael (played in alternate performances by Gabriel
Reis), sang well and enunciated clearly, but failed to show the wonder and
surprise that the magic of Mary Poppins should have elicited from them.
saves the show from the darker themes described above and makes this show soar
(literally) are the inventive sets, designed by Steve Loftus, which transport
the audience from the Banks’ home to the bank at which George works, to the
children’s bedroom, a park, the rooftops of London, and even a carousel and
shop that rise from the floor, and the special effects, which include Mary’s
bottomless satchel, a kitchen that cleans itself at a flick of Mary’s fingers,
and, of course, the flying to and fro by Mary, Bert, and even Miss Andrew. The
choreography, by Director/Choreographer Richard Stafford and his Associate in
both roles, Jonathan Stahl, shone especially in the ensemble numbers “Step in
cast of Mary Poppins performs Jolly Holiday
“Jolly Holiday,” which features statues that come to life. Costumes, by Derek
Lockwood, were likewise outstanding, with multiple changes for each character,
and attention to color and dress appropriate to the period. And the special
effects would not have been as effective without the lighting design by Andrew
Gmoser. The one jarring note to this reviewer was the orchestra, under the
direction of Leo Carusone, which seemed out of tune at times.
is a great first show for children old enough to handle the two hours,
forty-five minutes (including a 30 minute intermission) running time. It starts
slowly, but patience will be rewarded with the obligatory Happy Ending, and
there is enough adult material, new to the stage version, to hold parents‘
attention, as well.
Broadway Theatre, 1 Broadway Plaza, Elmsford, NY 10523
When: Through July 27th:
1:00 pm: Wednesdays (through June), Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays;
1:30 pm: Sundays
Evenings: 8:00 pm: Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays;
7:00 pm: Sundays
served 90 minutes before curtain.
Tickets: $54 to $80, plus
tax (includes meal and show)