Friday, January 21, 2011

Review: Mary Poppins, The Musical

On Sunday, The Boy, The Wife, and I went to see Mary Poppins at the Benedum Center in Downtown Pittsburgh. The theater is located in the aptly-named theater district, around the corner from Pittsburgh C.A.P.A. 6-12, the school in which I taught math last year. It's a nice theater, with a silly situation for lines: the snack table is in a different place than the drink table, and the lines tend to intertwine. I'm also not a big fan of the restrooms on a different floor. But, the seats were wide and comfortable, and even though we were in the back of the orchestra floor, we had a clear and unobstructed view. The seats are staggered enough so that The Wife and I - being unusually tall - weren't blocking the view of anyone else.

Now, on to the show. The Disney movie, Mary Poppins, is a genius-level work of art. In my opinion, this might be one of the five or six best movies ever made. It's utterly perfect: the acting, the effects, the songs, the dancing, the costumes, the pace. We've watched the movie at least 50 times, and each time, something new pops out to the eye. Dick Van Dyke steals the show as Burt, which is amazing considering that Julie Andrews plays the titular character. The Boy was quite excited to go to the musical to see a "real life Mary Poppins," because the movie is a favorite.

The musical is not the movie. The musical borrows a little more carefully from the original Mary Poppins stories by P.L. Travers. The stories are in the same style as "traditional" British folk tales and fairy tales: dark tales, with poor-behaving characters, in order to teach life lessons. For instance, the first act ends when Mary Poppins, trying to teach a lesson to the ungrateful Banks children, suddenly leaves, taking all of their toys with her.

The musical is still wonderful. The acting was up to par. The songs are the same wonderful, catchy tunes from the movie: "Supercalifragalisticexpialidocious," "Step In Time," "Perfect Nanny," etc, although the songs are in a different order and different context than the movie. The effects were marvelous, particularly Mary flying off over the crowd at the very end of the show. The scenery was fantastic. Burt tended to serve as a narrator and a catalyst for changing scenes, which was an interesting take. The singing and dancing was quite good - not great, but very good - and the large ensemble numbers were well-choreographed and entertaining.

Te musical was absolutely appropriate for The Boy, but parts of the show were kind of scary and dark (at least, relative to the movie). If you don't read Grimm's Fairy Tales to your kids because of the dark character, then this might not be the musical for you.

He enjoyed it quite a bit, but not as much as we hoped. He slept through about half of the first act, including most of the best and most familiar songs - darn afternoon nap time! Because it was different from the movie, I think some things confused and frustrated him a little bit. He recovered from each "surprise" quite quickly, all things considered, and enjoyed the day out quite a bit.

All in all, it was successful. We would and will do it again. But, we're not going to take him to see Shrek the Musical this spring; it's probably different enough from the movie that we don't want to explain the difference.

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