Posted by: David Stewart | June 25, 2011

Feed the Birds – and your local stage performers

The touring version of Disney’s Mary Poppins on stage has hit Portland, Oregon. It is surprisingly good, and not just if you have moppets in tow.

  • The story from the movie version of Poppins is well known: Parental abandonment in Edwardian London. Two adorable kids have parents who are so self-absorbed in career and the women’s suffrage movement that they can’t be bothered to pay attention to their progeny until the current nanny gets so frustrated that they walk off the job. Then Super Nanny Mary sails in on supernatural winds, finagles a posting and stays until "the winds change."
  • This basic story line persists on stage, but with significant twists: Mr Banks, the paterfamilias at Number 17 Cherry Tree Lane is a workaholic obsessed with order and precision, but this is driven by a latent fear of economic disaster and a desire to appear more affluent than he really is. Mrs Banks is no suffragette (perhaps too unfamiliar for today’s audience) and instead is rather uncomfortable with her role as wife / showpiece for the Banks family. It’s not overly complex, but it does bring out more complexity than the 1960s film version.
  • In fact, the characters in the movie Poppins are by contrast one-dimensional and cartoony. The film seems to exist mostly to showcase Mary’s power over the physical realm and her penchant for seeing closures. The characters in the stage version have, by contrast, a past and future, with strong desires and motivations. For example, the kids in the stage show are quite a lot more believably rambunctious and harder to control than the movie versions.
  • Disney magic abounds, in big and little ways. The signature special effects scene has been written about many times, and shows the actor playing Bert doing a tap-dance on the proscenium arch. Even if you know how it’s done, the courage of an actor to perform such a stunt is remarkable. You should go just to see it.
  • But don’t think you will hear canon fire. Admiral Boom has been relegated to a sidewalk presence with no explosives.

If you are in Portland during the current run, or can catch it in a future city, you should go.

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