Review written by Guest Writer, James Spada
Mary Poppins/book by Julian Fellowes/music by The Sherman Brothers/new songs by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe/tour directed by Anthony Lyn (from Richard Eyre's original direction and with adaptation by James Powell); choreography adapted by Geoffrey Garratt from Matthew Bourne's original choreography/Ahmanson Theatre/through September 2
(Editor's note: When Mary Poppins first played the Ahmanson in the fall of 2009, it set all box office records for the highest grossing show in their history.)
Once upon a time, particularly in the nineteen-fifties, Hollywood turned almost exclusively to Broadway for musical comedies. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Guys and Dolls, Oklahoma, South Pacific and many others had their genesis on the Great White Way. Now, the trend has reversed. Films like Phantom of the Opera, Newsies, Billy Elliot, The Wizard of Oz and Meet Me In St. Louis have been transformed into Broadway musicals, mostly with great success.
Mary Poppins, which opened at the Ahmanson on August 10 and runs through September 2, proves to be the perfect film to turn into a show. Flashy, whimsical, and packed with songs like "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," "Feed the Birds, "A Spoonful of Sugar" and "Let's Go Fly A Kite" that had America humming in 1965, the film provided Julie Andrews with her movie debut and an Oscar to boot. In its present incarnation, it is a splashy riot of color, comedy and song that had the audience I saw it with fairly rapturous after every big number.
The sets and costumes are eye-popping (and won Bob Crowley a well-deserved Tony in 2004.) The title character, as played by a luminous and funny Rachel Wallace, provides the show with its center, but it is the chimney sweep Bert, played by Nicolas Dromard, who gives Mary Poppins its heart. Dromard's performance is extraordinary, whether he's singing, dancing, doing shtick, or-memorably-walking up the walls and dancing across the ceiling. He makes the physical demands of the show seem effortless, and even gives Bert (played in the movie by Dick Van Dyke) a little sex appeal. I was sorry that his clear infatuation with Mary remained unrequited-a little romance would have been nice, even the chaste kind.
Another standout in the cast is Q. Smith, who plays both the Bird Woman and Miss Andrew (a character not in the film but taken from P.L. Travers's original stories), the monster of a governess who had turned Mr. Banks (Michael Dean Morgan), the patriarch of the family, into a cold and authoritarian adult and who returns to replace Mary Poppins after she abruptly leaves the household. Ms. Smith is touching in the former role and volcanic and dastardly in the latter. She also has a beautiful voice, which can also be said for most of the cast members. The two Banks children are played alternately by four young actors. The night I saw the show they were played by Cherish Myers and Zachary Mackiewicz, both of whom did good jobs. Elizabeth Broadhurst played their mother with a nice mixture of sweetness and befuddlement at how to control their antics. Tregoney Shepherd essayed Mrs. Brill, the Bankses' put-upon and underappreciated cook/housekeeper, with great comic flair.