Mary Poppins delivers Banks children from snootery in style
Published: October 3, 2011
But this is not Das Kapital: The Musical. Nearly all of the catchy Sherman Brothers' songs remain intact, including the simply wonderful “Jolly Holiday,” which, with its freewheeling chorus of fauns and picnickers, looks a lot like Monet on acid. (Be sure to check out the kelly green Pekingese: an improvement on nature.) “Step in Time,” an extended (and doubtless, exhausting) production number for the chimney sweeps, brings down the house, while wisely eliding the connection between stepping in time and stepping in asbestos. New songs by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe are at best workmanlike, and at their worst slow the momentum; a new ballad for the under-written Mrs. Banks (terribly titled “Being Mrs. Banks”) stops the second act cold. But all is forgiven whenever Rachel Wallace (Mary) and Nicolas Dromard (Bert) are on stage: Wallace is unfailingly pert, crisp, and winsome even when launched skyward like an ICBM missile, while the excellent Dromard reprises his music hall duties from the Broadway production. There’s also one curiosity for this tour: a re-worked sequence for an army of abused toys — “Playing the Game” — has apparently replaced an earlier, creepier version. (I sort of applaud the idea of a traumatizing Disney musical, but I digress.)
The script’s only major misstep occurs in the last scene, when Mr. Banks discovers the importance — contrary to the entire thrust of the musical — of putting family first. (No: the point is to put society first — as Arthur Miller might say, the chimney sweeps are all his sons.) But that’s just a quibble: for a season-opener, Mary Poppins is like a spoonful of sugar — that helps the trenchant Anglo-centric socio-political commentary go down.