Arts Club’s “Mary Poppins” pulls magic out of her carpetbag

Mary_Poppins_dress_0323 It took me longer than I’d have liked to warm up to it, but by the final curtain, I was embracing “Mary Poppins, The Musical” and dabbing my eyes. Despite “Mary Poppins” being, I believe, the first film I ever saw in a theatre, I didn’t grow up knowing it forward and backwards – it’s only since purchasing the Blu-Ray for Max, now nearing 4, that I really got to appreciate why the film is so beloved. So I’m definitely on the “Poppins” bandwagon, but was open to an alternate, theatrical version of the tale. That said, I struggled to engage with the show a bit during Act 1, feeling somewhat arms-length from the whimsical proceedings. It was only as we approached intermission that I felt I really knew and cared about the characters. And at that point, there was no going back. In Act 2, the show really seemed to kick in – to find its engine and hit full speed. By the finale, I was rooting for George Banks to triumph over his money troubles and deeply moved by his newfound connection to his children, all as a result of a bit of Mary Poppins’ magic. And there was indeed magic galore unleashed by the mysterious, magical Mary – both expected and surprising. Yes, floor lamps are pulled out of handbags, but the stage magic behind that event is worthy of Doug Henning – I really have no idea how they did it. There is also some wonderful wire work, plus other delightful developments that truly come out of nowhere. All are a testament to the top-notch work of the Arts Club technical crew. “Mary Poppins, The Musical” is both a familiar story and a very different one from the Disney version. It draws on elements from the original books not used in the film; and its story is quite reworked to make Mr. and Mrs. Banks more deeply drawn characters. We understand Mr. Banks a little better and have even more sympathy for him. The point where I stopped comparing the story and score of the musical to the film was probably when Mrs. Banks pours out her feelings in “Being Mrs. Banks”. For me, it was the first time in the show that a character was truly speaking from her heart and I was eager to just hear what she had to say. Thankfully though, and very wisely, no attempt is made to explain anything about Mary Poppins’ origins! The plot follows the general drift of the film, however the revisions mean you still enjoy the experience of wondering just what will happen next. Mary even encounters a nanny adversary (Katey Wright in a powerhouse appearance)! It’s almost like a “choose your own adventure” version of “Mary Poppins” that takes us down previously unseen side roads and introduces us to new characters, but never straying too far from the territory we know and love. The score takes the familiar songs down some new pathways as well. But I was impressed with the balance that was struck between the familiar and the new. It can’t have been easy trying to graft new lyrics onto the Oscar-winning Sherman Brothers’ songs from two generations past. Often in this kind of situation, the new stuff stands out all too clearly. But the new lyrics by George Styles and Anthony Drewe are light and witty enough to mesh seamlessly with the classic original songs. It’s a great achievement. And the all-new songs are a good fit as well, including some, like “Anything Can Happen”, that can confidently take their place as classics in their own right. Overall, I liked the changes made to the story and character arcs. Mr. Banks’ change of attitude in particular was more realistically developed – instead of an all-at-once turnaround at the end, he starts to see the error of his ways earlier on. And his final rebuke to the banking bigwigs is nicely rooted in the real human aspect of banking, making him sort of a cross between George Banks and another George: It’s a Wonderful Life‘s George Bailey. All in all, “Mary Poppins: The Musical” manages to achieve what it sets out to do: bring us the familiar story of a beloved character, yet take us on a different path that reaches not only the desired high points but also new surprises. I was cheering at the finale, and I’m sure you will be too. Mary Poppins: The Broadway Musical runs through January 4 at the Stanley Theatre / Industrial Alliance Stage. Visit for details and tickets.

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