Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Mary Poppins (Playhouse Square/State Theatre)

‘MARY POPPINS,’ almost perfect in every way, flies into the State Theatre

“Anything Can Happen,” ”Chim Chim Cher-ee,” and “Let’s Go Fly a Kite.” Honestly, did you read those song titles and not have the tunes and words flowing through your head? Yes, ‘MARY POPPINS’ has come to town. And the event is so significant that the segment of Euclid Avenue, directly in front of the theatre, has been renamed Cherry Tree Lane (where nanny Mary Poppins comes to live in the Banks’ home, the setting for the musical).

Mary arrived accompanied by impressive sets, exciting special effects and very high expectations. Opening night found a packed theatre of adults and kids in the State Theatre to see one of the area’s most anticipated theatrical events of the year.

‘MARY POPPINS, is a musical based on a series of children's books by P. L. Travers and a 1964 Disney film. The stage version features the film's music and lyrics by the Academy Award winning Sherman Brothers, along with additional tunes by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe.

As Ian (9), one of the Kid Reviewers, who I bring along to give the youngster’s view of child friendly productions, stated, “This isn’t exactly like the movie.” He’s right, songs have been added, special effects like statues that come to life have been created, and some scenes have been dropped.

The amazing visual image--Mary flying over the heads of the audience up to the level of the balcony; Bert dancing vertically up the side of the proscenium arch, hanging upside down as he moved across the bottom side of the arch, then down the other side; a lark being set free by Mary to fly over the heads of the audience, and the chimney sweeps dancing on the roofs of houses, all add to the awe-factor. It’s those special moments that make this, the live version, superior and more involving than the movie.

Don’t go expecting to see an enduring musical. As Alex (13) the other Kid Reviewer said, “The plot isn’t great, but the music and the lyrics and the production qualities, are.” Without the gimmicks, the script doesn’t hold well. The first act drags a little. The second act is the fun of a giant amusement park ride!

The Cleveland presentation, which is the first stop on the show’s national tour, is well done. The cast includes the two lead actors from the Broadway version.

Ashley Brown, who Clevelanders saw in the world premiere of the national tour of ‘ON THE RECORD,’ is wonderful as Mary. Brown has a lovely voice and much stage presence. Some may be surprised because she is not the warm and fuzzy nanny that some imagine. As written in the books, she is a very structured woman, who has the whimsy and creativity to let a spoon full of sugar make the medicine go down. Mary Poppins is explained in the song “Practically Perfect” and that’s the character Brown presents.

Gavin Lee, a Brit who plays Bert, is delightful. He lights up the stage each time he smiles. His dancing and singing are high quality. His “Step in Time,” was one of the many show stoppers. Other crowd pleasers were, “Jolly Holiday” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” which turned into a sing-along with the words written on a front curtain.

“Feed the Birds,” was tenderly delivered by Mary VanArsdel.

The boys gave the show an 8 out of 10, making it pretty high on their “like” list. They both agreed that “girls will probably like it better than boys, but boys will like all the fly and theatrics.”

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Go see ‘MARY POPPINS’ for the sheer joy of the music, the production shticks and the feel good quality. You’ll leave smiling and knowing that you have seen a show that was staged with audience pleasure in mind.