Mary Poppins | Stage review
It’s been two-and-a-half years since Mary Poppins kicked off its first national tour in Chicago with a load of fanfare and hype. The show played an 18-week engagement at the Cadillac Palace in spring of 2009, wowing audiences with show-stopping dance numbers, full-tilt Disney theatrics and special effects, plus a top-notch cast that included the original Broadway leads.
It feels like we just finished saying supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, and the tour is back—this time, for a four-week run at the same theater. The centerpiece of the show is, of course, the no-nonsense, magical nanny from P. L. Travers’s books, plus the beloved songs from the 1964 Julie Andrews/Dick Van Dyke movie. The stage show's creators goose the score, adding lush multi-part harmonies and Broadway orchestrations, with mostly excellent results. (That iconic song about the 14-syllable nonsense word becomes even more fun here, with enthusiastic sign-language-style choreography.) But the storyline that follows father George Banks’s worries about the possibility of losing his banking job and everything he owns feels even more timely now than it did in 2009–a fact that isn’t lost when considering the best seats cost more than $100.
Unfortunately (especially so, at these prices), the razzle-dazzle from the first time around is missing. Gone are the Broadway stars and with them, much of the production’s spectacular energy. The song-and-dance numbers are fun, just not over-the-top fabulous (with the exception of “Step in Time,” an amazing tap spectacle my kids would watch over and over if given the chance). Even though the show feels far too long, clocking in at close to three hours including one intermision, the scenes between the song-and-dance numbers feel rushed. And those jaw-dropping moments when Bert dances on the ceiling and Mary flies through the air? Well, the audience expects them this time around.
But none of this means that your kids, first-time Poppins-goers especially, won't enjoy this show. (Considering its length, we suggest a matinee—or a hookey day from school after a weeknight performance.) It's funny and fanciful in the way that musical theater should be. But whether it’s worth the steep ticket price during a time when so many of us have Banks-esque worries about finances is debatable.