Tuesday, December 25, 2007

"Mary Poppins"

Disney does know how to churn them out. A visitor to New York can see not just "Mary Poppins," but also "The Lion King" and "The Little Mermaid." "Tarzan" and "Beauty and the Beast" closed relatively recently.

If you really need to have a dose of Disney, and nothing else will do, the production of "Mary Poppins" actually has quite a lot going for it. First of all, the show is based on one of Disney's best films ever. It features some of the best Disney songs: "Spoonful of Sugar," "Feed the Birds," "Chim-Chim-Cheree" and "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious."

But in adapting "Mary Poppins" for the stage, Disney somehow managed to take a great story and make it both limp and leaden. Part of the problem is that the new songs written for the stage are mostly forgettable, and the producers are rushing too fast from one number to another to let the show find its own legs.

However, you can forgive a lot when the numbers they are rushing to are as impressively staged as they are here. "Mary Poppins" won just one Tony (it was nominated for seven), for Best Scenic Design, an award that is richly-deserved. The sets are indeed stunning. The Banks's house, the rooftops of London, the interiors of the bank and the area around St. Paul's Cathedral are grander than anything I think I have ever seen on stage. I won't spoil the surprises for you, but count on lots of big set pieces, efficient, elegant movement between scenes, and some amazing staging effects.

I didn't love the show, but I'd still recommend it, especially if you have kids -- or just want to be blown away yourself. It's a giant, loud, multi-colored ball of fun -- that unfortunately misses its mark too often.

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