Last night I relived one of my favorite childhood memories: Mary Poppins.
Based on the book series, Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers, the fun-loving musical first debuted on the silver screen in 1964. The movie was further adapted to a stage production at London’s West End Theater in 2004, and then to Broadway in 2006. Fortunately for us in Richmond, the traveling show began in the US in 2009 and has run ever since.
Set in 1910, Mary Poppins is a story about a ‘practically perfect in every way’ nanny who is hired to replace her overwhelmed predecessor, Katie Nanna, and help look after the children of the troubled Banks family–Jane and Michael. The new nanny, Mary Poppins, fleets in and out with the wind via an umbrella that has a tiny parrot head (not the Jimmy Buffett kind) on the end. She brings new games to the children and has a magical quality that is reflected in everything she does–from pulling a coat rack out of her seemingly hollow carpet bag to bringing statues in the park to life. Throughout the performance you watch her begin to teach the children lessons of appreciation, humility, kindness, and belief in oneself. Albeit not easy, Mary Poppins brings the Banks family back together, leaving ‘when the job is done.’
While the basic plot remains the same, the stage adaptation leaves out some classic songs from the movie and brings with it new songs and stories pulled from the books. Instead of the dancing penguins and live carousel horses in the park, you get dancing statues and the bright, circus-themed Mrs. Corry’s shop. Being ‘practically perfect in every way’ is no longer a notch on a tape measure, but is one of the first songs sung upon Mary Poppins’ arrival. There’s also a deeper glimpse into the lives of George and Winifred Banks, including the reappearance of George’s terrifying childhood nanny, Miss Andrew.
I have to be honest, for the first 30 minutes I sat comparing the stage production to the film, trying to figure out everything that was different or out of order. The writers and producers must have known this would happen because around the time when I was almost fully engrossed in comparisons, Mary Poppins exclaims, “Anything can happen if you let it.” So, what do you do when a stern but loving nanny tells you to do something? You do it.
I let myself get lost in the incredibly detailed sets that seamlessly transitioned between scenes, bright colors and special effects, and the stunts performed by the actors and actresses. Before I knew it, I was quickly tapping my feet and singing along (in my head, of course) to the very same songs I originally questioned. Like Mary Poppins’s ability to snap her fingers and make the job done, my opinion of this production changed instantly.
In addition to the special effects, the cast is what made this performance truly striking and engaging. Lindsey Bliven, playing Mary Poppins, impressed the audience with her eloquently stated lines and beautiful soprano voice. Madison Ann Mullahey and Zachary Mackiewicz, playing Jane and Michael Banks, never lost their energy or character throughout the entire performance. Karen Murphy’s voice, playing the Bird Woman, was an unexpected and captivating new addition to the song, “Feed the Birds.” And finally, the show was stolen by the thrilling, tap-dancing chimney sweepers performing “Step in Time,” led by Con O’Shea-Creal, playing Bert.
Mary Poppins proved to be an exceptional performance that is sure to excite, inspire, and most likely teach you something along the way. So what did Mary Poppins teach me last night? I experienced my favorite childhood movie in an entirely different way—Mary Poppins is about believing, and if you just believe, you can see magic yourself.
Warning to those with very young children: while this musical is family friendly, its running time is 2 hours and 45 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission.
Tickets start at $43 and are available online.
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Why you should see this show
It’s great for kids and adults, so go for either nostalgia or to create a new memory!
Why you should stay home
You are morally opposed to dancing statues.
Photo by: Jeremy Daniel