Friday, November 17, 2006

Mary Poppins


Original Music and lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B, Sherman; new music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe; book by Julian Fellowes. Dir. Richard Eyre. Chor. Matthew Bourne. New Amsterdam Theater.

It's a mixed bag of reviews for "Mary Poppins." The consensus is that the show is a bit too long--the word "overstuffed" gets thrown around a lot--and that expensive special effects have replaced charm. But there is high praise for Bob Crowley's sets and for the new songs, which most agree fit nicely with the originals from the film. The British transport has been made lighter in its trip across the Atlantic, to the disappointment of some critics and satisfaction of others. Reviews are also mixed on the cast, with Rebecca Luker as Mrs. Banks and Gavin Lee as Bert faring best.

New York Post A
(Clive Barnes) What makes Mackintosh currently the best producer on Broadway and the West End is his creative touch and the manner in which he picks his collaborators, places them on the same page, and makes sure they stay there. "Mary Poppins" looks and sounds complete - a perfectly engineered piece of musical theater. The staging by Richard Eyre and co-director Matthew Bourne and choreography (Bourne and Stephen Mear) seem seamless, although perhaps Bourne, with a set of smoothly energized and imaginative dance numbers, deserves the most laurels. But there's also Bob Crowley's superbly inventive scenery and costumes, Howard Harrison's lighting and the terrific stage effects for which I presume we tip our cap, in part, to technical director David Benken. It's a show that looks good enough to eat.

The Journal News A
(Jacques Le Sourd) The dances, together with Bob Crowley's extraordinarily detailed sets and costumes, contribute to the lush grandeur of a real Broadway musical - the kind we haven't seen in a long time. The production numbers keep coming, and though they don't have the cartoon component that Walt couldn't resist adding in, they are splendiferous. The biggest show-stopper has the lushness of one great dancer - Gavin Lee as Bert, happily imported from London with the production - who taps his way up the proscenium to dance upside down, just like Fred Astaire. This is magical stagecraft. That, and Brown's slow ascent over the audience and into the New Amsterdam's high ceiling at the show's end are magical moments no 10-year-old will soon forget. This show is indeed, to quote one of its sparkling new songs and a self-appraisal by Mary Poppins, "Practically Perfect."

The Daily News A-
(Joe Dziemianowicz) Nobody does magical entertainment like Disney - except Cameron Mackintosh. The two have teamed up for the musical "Mary Poppins," which opened last night on Broadway and won't be going anywhere for a long time. It is a roof-raising, toe-tapping, high-flying extravaganza...Brown had me from hello - well, from, "Jane, don't stare, and close your mouth, Michael. We are not a codfish." She plays Mary as stern and steely, but always has a bewitching twinkle in her eye. She sings, acts and dances gorgeously.

Pittsburg Post-Gazette A-
(Christopher Rawson) Thanks to the 1964 movie, "Mary Poppins" is the kind of musical where you find yourself humming the songs on the way into the theater, then greet their teasing quotation in the overture as a guarantee of musical comedy pleasure to come. That guarantee is as good as gold. This stage version, already a hit in London, arrived on Broadway last night in a production both lavish and loving, never content just to refer us back to the movie but determined to whip up a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious entertainment of its own.

Variety A-
(David Rooney) There seems to be an unspoken rule that shows have to skirt three hours or London audiences will feel swindled. On Broadway, greater economy is welcomed and the producers' refusal to trim more than 10 minutes from "Mary Poppins" will challenge the attention span of children, especially in the protracted 90-minute first act. But reprise-laden excesses aside, there's much to savor here...Bourne and co-choreographer Stephen Mear's athletic dance routines are at their liveliest in "Jolly Holiday" and the rambunctious rooftop tap number, "Step in Time," while "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" is animated by fun semaphore spelling moves. "Spoonful of Sugar" is played for comedy, with the Banks' kitchen collapsing in chaos only to be reassembled with a flick of Mary's wrist. But it's the simpler staging that often captivates most, in the melancholy "Feed the Birds" or the joyous "Let's Go Fly a Kite."

Associated Press A-
(Michael Kuchwara) Crowley's detailed sets, particularly his gargantuan, four-level Banks household, are wonders to behold. The technical kinks experienced in preview performances seem to have been worked out. Right now, they sweep and swirl with majestic grace. And his costumes don't quit either — a staggering array of colorful period clothes. Yet at its heart, this "Mary Poppins" is a small story, a family drama that is resolved with the help of a determined, thoroughly directed young woman. That this human and humane story shines through all the dazzling theatrical effects demonstrates the potency of its emotional impact.

Time Out NY A-
(David Cote) Now, with "Mary Poppins," comes a strange new beast for Uncle Walt’s menagerie: the Integrated Musical That Adults Can Enjoy. At this rate, Disney may well generate its own Sondheim by 2076.

CurtainUp B+
(Elyse Sommer) 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...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.

Entertainment Weekly B-
(Steve Daly) Imported from London, this adaptation teeters between saccharine and tart in what feels like a creative tug-of-war.

Theatermania C+
(David Finkle) Effective as it may be, the show is also a gigantic machine. Every cog and wheel, including Bob Crowley's jolly-enough Victorian sets and costumes, is securely in place and well oiled. Indeed, Mary Poppins is reminiscent of a Swiss cuckoo clock that goes off precisely when and how it should. Where it might glow with humanity, it's too often mechanical, as if its primary materials are steel and wood rather than Travers' insights about British society.

The Record C
(Robert Feldberg) If thorough competence -- covering all the bases, dotting the i's, crossing the t's -- were the goal of a Broadway musical, "Mary Poppins" would be a standout. The long-awaited, very expensive-looking British import, which opened Thursday night at the New Amsterdam Theatre, has all the standard essentials: talented performers who sing, dance and act well; elaborate production numbers; a well-loved story. What's missing is inspiration, the imaginative spark that snaps a musical to life and makes the audience go 'Wow!'

The New York Times C-
(Ben Brantley) Certainly a dark-clouded, Jungian air pervaded the “Mary Poppins” that opened nearly two years ago at the Prince Edward Theater in London, where it continues to run. Its predominant palette when I saw it was gray. Then there was that notorious scene where the Banks children, Mary Poppins’s charges, were sentenced to death by firing squad by their own toys. The show’s producers seem to have figured out that gray is not the favorite color of Americans. So cake-frosting pinks, greens, lilacs and yellows have, for the most part, pushed away sootier tones. As for those vengeful toys, well, they still get angry, but not homicidal. Nothing remains here to frighten anyone, except possibly diabetics. If this sanitizing of the exotic in “Mary Poppins” makes it more digestible for young children, it also makes it less arresting for adults. When I saw it in London two years ago, “Mary Poppins” was a show divided between its shadowy id and its can-do super-ego, which set the prescriptions of self-help books to music. In New York it is made clear that the heart of this show is not in the starry skies to which Mary ascends in the finale — or even among the rooftops where Mary’s B.F.F., Bert (Gavin Lee), works as a chimney sweep — but somewhere closer to the kitchen sink.

The Washington Post C-
(Peter Marks) If a few mechanical marvels are enough for you (or your little ones), then the charms of this highly anticipated adaptation of the 1964 movie musical will not feel too fleeting or sporadic. But anyone hoping that this show -- staged by director Richard Eyre and choreographer Matthew Bourne -- would provide much in the way of robust musical pleasure or emotional sustenance is likely to find it a wee bit of a letdown. All the va-va-va-voom is contained here in the environment created by designer Bob Crowley. The new songs by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe that supplement the Poppins standards by the Sherman brothers, Richard M. and Robert B., are fairly flaccid. In other words, what this "Mary Poppins" primarily has going for it is sets appeal.

New York Sun C-
(Eric Grode) Yes, there are some nifty visuals as the no-nonsense Mary (Ashley Brown) guides the two remaining Banks children, Jane and Michael, through a string of surreal capers; for the amount of money this production appears to have cost, there had better be. The upper-floor bedroom of the children's Victorian home (designed with picture-book whimsy by Bob Crowley) floats up and down from the rafters, Mary and her ever-present umbrella still arrives at 17 Cherry Tree Lane via the wind, and the long-legged Cockney chimney sweep Bert (Gavin Lee) is given a bit of physical derring-do that does Fred Astaire's gravity-defying "Royal Wedding" dance one better. But with the exception of one magical sequence involving a half-dozen flying kites, every instant of astonishment comes with a price tag attached. The smaller, seemingly more attainable delights that Mary Poppins generated all the time are nowhere to be found, just big-ticket spectacles achieved with wires and hydraulics.

NYMag C-
(Jeremy McCarter) The second-biggest surprise of Mary Poppins, the stage version of Disney’s classic film, is that I give a damn about Mary Poppins. I didn’t care about the movie as a kid and haven’t seen it since, yet now, confronted by the monumental adaptation at the New Amsterdam, I’ve begun to adore its quirky tunes and slightly daffy personality. Certainly that’s what Disney and co-producer Cameron Mackintosh intended when they lavished millions on its flying sets and huge cast. But I doubt they wanted those warm feelings to make me resent what they’ve done to the film. Not having thought about dancing penguins in twenty years, I am now offended that there aren’t any here. And no flying carousel horses? Come on!

New Jersey Star-Ledger C-
(Michael Sommers) Resembles a vast, elaborate clockwork toy of yesteryear. It's festooned with an array of bells, whistles and cute mechanical figures. Whether kids will be thrilled by such a vintage gadget is debatable. Adults are likely to mix fond smiles with yawns. While the energetic Sherman Brothers parts of the score are enjoyable, the cluttered musical isn't as wonderful as hoped...This over-stuffed version of 'Mary Poppins' strives very hard to satisfy viewers. Sometimes it succeeds. But for a show about enchantment in everyday life, isn't magic supposed to seem effortless?

Wall Street Journal C-
(Terry Teachout) Could it be that the multinational partnership of Disney-Mackintosh Inc. has smothered "Mary Poppins" under a blanket of cash? I like how'd-they-do-that stage trickery as much as the next wide-eyed theatergoer, but there's something unsatisfyingly slick about the fantastic spectacle that Mr. Mackintosh and his British colleagues have shipped across the Atlantic. The 1964 film of "Mary Poppins" was more than a little bit sticky around the edges, but it had heart, and it also had Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, and a brilliant supporting cast that included Hermione Baddeley, Jane Darwell, Glynis Johns, Elsa Lanchester and Ed Wynn. This "Mary Poppins" has the best special effects that money can buy. I'd rather have heart.

Talkin' Broadway D+
(Matthew Murray) It looks like designer Bob Crowley was encouraged to spend a small fortune on sets and costumes of uncommon bounty, which evoke Victorian London in sepia shades, Technicolor, and opulent extravagance. But for Mackintosh and Disney, these are investments in a show all but guaranteed to run somewhere in the realm of forever, and it's in every other element of the show, from the book and score to the performers, that Mary Poppins is indistinguishable from a no-fee, no-frills ATM for its creators. For while Mackintosh reportedly wanted to divest Travers's property of the film's saccharine, he wasn't willing to do it at the expense of the score and characterizations that made the movie an international and intergenerational phenomenon…Librettist Julian Fellowes, however, doesn't reconcile these contradictory attitudes into a cohesive work.

AM New York D+
(Matt Windman) Perhaps what "Mary Poppins" needs most of all is personality. More problematic than just the monotonic perkiness of Ashley Brown's performance, "Mary Poppins" appears to have been directed in a dozen different styles, leading to an identity crisis in which it does not know what kind of musical it wants to be. Till some degree of coherence is achieved, not even a magic umbrella could make "Mary Poppins" fly.

New York Post A 13; Journal News A 13; The Daily News A- 12; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette A- 12; Variety A- 12; Associated Press A- 12; TONY A- 12; CurtainUp B+ 11; EW B- 9; Theatermania C+ 8; The Record C 7; The New York Times C- 6; Washington Post C- 6; New York Sun C- 6; NYMag C- 6; NJ Star-Ledger C- 6; WSJ C- 6; Talkin’ Broadway D+ 5; AMNY D+ 5; TOTAL: 167/19 = 8.79 (B-)

No comments: