“Mary Poppins”

New Amsterdam Theatre, New York • 19 July 2007 • 8pm
Based on the stories of P. L. Travers & the Walt Disney film. Original Music and Lyrics by Richard M. Sherman & Robert B. Sherman. Book by Julian Fellowes. New Songs and Additional Music & Lyrics by George Stiles & Anthony Drewe. Co-created by Cameron Mackintosh.

Directed by Richard Eyre. Co-direction & Choreography: Matthew Bourne. With Megan Osterhaus (Mary Poppins [understudy]), Gavin Lee (Bert), Daniel Jenkins (George Banks), Rebecca Luker (Winifred Banks), Cass Morgan (Bird Woman), Janelle Anne Robinson (Mrs. Corry)…

I would be hard pressed to list all the differences between this version and the original London production, but it is obvious that the show has been made a lot less dark and a lot more cheerful… thus paradoxically making it remoter from the P. L. Travers stories.

Dark or not, I still have mixed feelings about this show, which fails to create the level of excitement that one would expect from such an ambitious venture. The score, in particular, doesn’t really convince, for a number of complex and related reasons: the new songs aren’t very inspired; the sound design struck me as unnatural and somewhat muddy… and the absence of violins (and violas) in the orchestra confirms a regrettable trend towards diminishing the number of instruments in the pits of Broadway shows, thus making the “live” sound of the theatre less and less pleasant and more and more dependant on the limited capacities of sophisticated synthesizers.

Visually, the show is quite impressive and it offers several highly enjoyable moments of theatrical wizardry. Bert’s walk around the proscenium is still a treat… as is Mary Poppins’ last flight across the auditorium (it must be quite a challenge to rush back to the stage in time to take her bow). The cast (which included quite a few understudies and swings) gives a warm performance, which strikes just the right chords and makes the overall experience pleasurable.

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