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A CurtainUp Review
Mary Poppins

A nanny should govern. . .a nanny should smile.— Bert

Ashley Brown as Mary Poppins
Ashley Brown as Mary Poppins (Photo: Joan Marcus)
Ashley Brown, as P. L. Travers beloved nanny, Mary Poppins, does indeed govern and smile as decreed in the above quoted lyric. Carried by an East Wind to Number Seventeen Cherry-Tree Lane in Victorian London she's got enough magical powers up her umbrella to make the mischievous Brown children more appreciative of the world around them and to insure that the entire Brown household is "spit-spot" before her spectacular final flight.

Now the musical stage adaptation of the Travers classic has finally flown across the Atlantic where The Lion King moved to another location so she could land in the New Amsterdam Theater. Gavin Lee, who created the role of Bert, Mary's fleet-footed, multi-taking friend (chimney sweep, artist) is on hand to help the American Nanny and cast make a smooth landing. Lee more than lives up to the praises he garnered in London.

And what about the new nanny? Ashley Brown's singing is very much in the Julie Andrews tradition. She dances expertly and energetically and her Mary Poppins oozes the sort of self-assurance that makes her singing "I'm Practically Perfect" totally convincing. She also scores high in the pretty and perky department. If her smile seems more a case of listening to a photographer urging her to "give a big smile and hold it" than the "slightly pleased expression" attributed to her character by Travers, chalk it up to the stepped-up Disneyfication of the Broadway production.

That heightened Disneyfication in which bright and cheerful rules caused a scene that had some London critics dub Mary "Scary Mary" to be de-scarified. This brightening also applies to the overall look of the show. Fortunately, the more sophisticated grisaille pallette isn't all gone. We still have the inventive "Jolly Holiday" park scene with its animated statues, the touching "Feed the Birds" number, the terrific black and white depiction of the bank where the Banks children's father (Daniel Jenkins) spends more time than with them and the show's crème-de-la-crème production number the "Step In Time " rooftop ballet by Bert and an ensemble of chimney sweeps.

That's not to say that the super bright, candy colored segments aren't dazzling. Bob Crowley's sets and costumes are truly supercalifragilistic. I dare you not to be bowled over by that three story Victorian house with its up and down moving third floor nursery or the outfits for the animated toy judges conjured up by Mary Poppins' "Temper, Temper" (One of several delightful songs added to the equally delightful movie songs). A stage filled to the brim with a cast of what often feels like hundreds, the elaborate scenic changes, the pyrotechnics that include dancing up and down a wall and, of course, flying, makes it easy to forgive a certain jumpiness resulting from this marriage of the movie's hokiness and Matthew Bourne's sophisticated choreographic sensibility.

The cast overall is exemplary— from the ensemble to the members of the Banks family— There are three sets of children who alternate as Jane and Michael Banks with Kathryn Faughnan and Henry Hodges proving themselves to be seasoned troupers at the performance I attended. Daniel Jenkins brings enough befuddled charm to the uptight father to make you understand why his wife (the l clarion voiced Rebecca Luker) fell in love with him to begin with. Not to be overlooked is the other nanny, the termagent who demonized Mr. Banks as a boy played with devilish glee by Ruth Gottschall (she also does a quick turn as Queen Victoria).

Ultimately, this Mary Poppins heaps on less spoonfuls of sugar than the movie, but saves the shovel for the eye-popping costumes, scenery and special effects. Despite the fact that the pyrotechnics overwhelm the more emotionally resonant magic of the book (books, actually — Travers wrote several sequels), the audience, young and old, walked out of the theater smiling and humming and their word of mouth is likely to sell tickets for years to come. With the book is still available (see links below) and for far less than tickets to the show, parents can give their children a chance to discover Mary Poppin's magic on the page as well as the stage at a minor additional expenditure.

For more plot details, see our review of Mary Poppins in London

Here are links to inexpensive paperback editions of the Travers book:
Mary Poppins
A Triple Dose of Mary Poppins: Three Enchanting Classics: Mary Poppins, Mary Poppins Comes Back, and Mary Poppins Opens the Door (Paperback)

Music and lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman.
Book: Julian Fellowes, based on P.L. Travers book
New songs and additional music & lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe.
Directed by Richard Eyre
Cast (in order of Appearance): Gavin Lee (Bert); Daniel Jenkins (George Banks); Rebecca Luker (Winifred Banks); Katherine Faughnan (alternating with Katherine Leigh Daughterty and Delaney Moro as Jane Banks); Henry Hodges (alternating with Matthew Gumley and Alexander Schettinger as Michael Banks); Megan Osterhaus (Katie Nanna, Annie); Ann Arvia (Miss Lark); Michael McCarty (Admiral Boom/Bank Chairman); Jane Carr (Mrs. Brill); Mark Price (Robertson Ay); Ashley Brown (Mary Poppins); Nick Corley (Park Keeper); Brian Letendre (Neleus); Ruth Gottschall (Queen Victoria/Miss Smythe/Miss Andrew); Sean McCourt (Von Hussler); Matt Loehr (Northbrook); Cass Morgan (Bird Woman); Janelle Ane Robinson (Mrs. Corry); Vasthy E. Mompoint (Fannie); Tyler Maynard (Valentine)); Eric B. Anthony (William); James Hindman (Mr. Pinch); Catherine Walker (Glamorous Doll)
Choreography: Matthew Bourne
Co-choreography: Stephen Mear
Dance and vocal arrangements: George Stiles
Set and Costumes: Bob Crowley
Lighting Design: Howard Harrison
Sound: Steve Canyon Kennedy
Orchestrations: William David Brohn
Musical Supervision: David Caddick.
Running Time: 2 hours and 45 minutes, including one intermission.
New Amsterdam Theatre, Broadway at West 42nd Street (212) 307-4100
From 10/14/06; opening 11/16/06
From 10/14/06; opening 11/16/06
Tuesday to Saturday @8pm, Wednesday and Saturday @2pm. Sunday @3pm.
Tickets: $20- to $110
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on November 17th performance
Musical Numbers
*New Songs. . .+Adapted Songs (songs and order presented are unchanged from the London production)
Act One
  • + Chim Chim Cher-ee/Bert
  • *Cherry Tree Lane Part 1/George and Winifred Banks, Jane and Michael, Mrs Brill and Robertson Ay
    The Perfect Nanny/Jane and Michael
  • Cherry Tree Lane Part 2/George and Winifred Banks, Jane and Michael, Mrs Brill and Robertson Ay
  • *Practically Perfect/Mary Poppins, Jane and Michael
  • +Jolly Holiday/Bert, Mary Poppins, Jane, Michael, Neleus and the Statues
  • Cherry Tree Lane (Reprise)/*Being Mrs Banks/Jolly Holiday (Reprise)/ George, Winifred, Jane and Michael
  • A Spoonful of Sugar/Mary Poppins, Jane, Michael, Robertson Ay and Winifred
  • Precision and Order/The Chairman and the Bank Clerks
  • +A Man Has Dreams/George Banks
  • Feed the Birds/George Banks
  • +Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious/Mary Poppins, Mrs Corry, Bert, Jane, Michael, Fannie, Annie and Customers
  • *Temper, Temper/Valentine, William, Mr Punch, the Doll and other Toys
  • Chim, Chim, Cher-ee (Reprise)/Bert and Mary Poppins
Act Two
  • Cherry Tree Lane (Reprise)/Mrs Brill, Michael, Jane, Winifred, Robertson Ay and George
  • *Brimstone and Treacle Part 1/Miss Andrew
  • Let's Go Fly a Kite/Bert, Park Keeper, Jane and Michael
  • *Good For Nothing/George
  • Being Mrs Banks (Reprise)/Winifred
  • *Brimstone and Treacle Part 2/Mary Poppins And Miss Andrew
  • Practically Perfect (Reprise)/Jane and Michael and Mary Poppins
  • Chim Chim Cher-ee (Reprise)/Bert
  • +Step in Time/Bert, Mary Poppins, Jane Michael and the Sweeps
  • A Man Has Dreams/A Spoonful of Sugar (Reprise)/George and Bert
  • *Anything Can Happen/Jane and Michael, Mary Poppins, and the entire Company
  • A Spoonful of Sugar (Reprise)/Mary Poppins
  • +A Shooting Star/The Orchestra
premium tickets for Mary Poppins on Broadway

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