Who knew that Mary Poppins, that brightly colored stage spectacle of a musical comedy confection, would be the theatrical offering that most eloquently addresses the questionable shenanigans of unscrupulous bankers, financiers and other assorted nefarious London financial district/Wall Street types and which champions the importance of family and the common folk?
Certainly, Mary Poppins retains its phantasmagorical, fantastical characters and plotline, but in relating the story originally written by P.L. Travers—which served as the basis for the acclaimed Disney film that still has its claim on our hearts and our imaginations—the musical stage adaptation has a deeper, more genuine resonance, certain to delight and to entertain, but just as likely to touch your heart.
Now ensconced at Andrew Jackson Hall in Nashville’s Tennessee Performing Arts Center for an eight-performance run, Mary Poppins is the ideal theatrical offering for all audiences—whatever their ages may be—who are captivated by all the stage wizardry and technical magic that provides the musical’s wonderful, whimsical power.
Beautifully designed—the production features the exquisite scenic and costume design of Bob Crowley, illuminated by Natasha Katz’s exemplary lighting—the musical, as sprightly and hummable as any to come down the pike in years, is sure to thrill younger audience members while taking the more seasoned theater-goer on a nostalgic journey of childlike wonderment mixed with just enough sentimentality to dampen the eyes and tug at the heartstrings.
Incorporating many of the original tunes created for the much revered Disney film (starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke) by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman, the score features new songs by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, which help to draw a sharper focus on the family dynamic and the interdependence of the people who occupy the upstairs and downstairs of 17 Cherry Tree Lane. Thankfully, the estimable Julian Fellowes (Academy Award winner for Gosford Park, who is the creator of television’s most-buzzed about series of recent memory Downton Abbey) is the book writer for this production, exhibiting once again the never-ending abundance of knowledge of the Edwardian era that typifies his work.
The musical’s national tour is directed by Anthony Lyn, based upon the original work by Richard Eyre, with Geoffrey Garratt adapting the original choreography of Matthew Bourne. The play’s action moves along at a good pace, with the plot unfolding in a way that is completely engaging and involving. The choreography, which won an Olivier Award in London, is inventive and imaginative, performed beautifully by an exceptional ensemble. “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” is performed with an ease that belies its complexity, while “Step In Time” is extraordinary, showing off Case Dillard’s fancy footwork to perfection (watching him scale the proscenium in TPAC’s Andrew Jackson Hall is enough to make you want to see the show over and over). “Jolly Holiday” seems to envelop the entire theater in all its sumptuous, color-soaked glory, which provides a stunningly conceived change from the sepia-toned vision of Edwardian London that comes before and after.
At curtain we are introduced to the people of London’s tony Cherry Tree Lane, out for a nip of fresh air in a neighborhood park. Those people include Bert, an affable and charming chimney sweep played with an easy elegance by Case Dillard; the rambunctious Banks children—Jane and Michael, played on opening night in Nashville by Cherish Myers and Zachary Mackiewicz, a pair of thoroughly committed and focused young actors whose exuberant performances are perfectly suited to the material; and their harried and put upon nanny (Elizabeth Ann Berg) who can scarcely control her charges. It comes as no surprise when Katie Nanna abruptly leaves the Banks’ home, presumably in search of a position that includes children more in keeping with her sensibilities.