Mary Poppins: The Broadway Musical

The cast with Kayla James as Mary Poppins (centre)
Credit: David Cooper

At The Stanley. Held over until January 8, 2017

Posted December 18, 2016

If your children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews have all grown up, take the child-you-used-to-be to Mary Poppins: The Broadway Musical directed by the Arts Club’s artistic managing director Bill Millerd. If you think you’ve completely lost your inner child, go to a matinee where you will find dozens and dozens of little girls (in satin, velvet, lace and organdy party dresses) and little boys (many in shirts and bowties) caught up in the magic that is Mary Poppins. Their excitement and wonder are infectious and you’re sure to catch it.

English nanny Mary Poppins has been popping into the unhappy Banks’ household at Number 17, Cherry Tree Lane, London, since 1934 when she first appeared in a story by P.L. Travers. She has continued flying in on the blustery east wind in various ways since then.

In 1964, Walt Disney released the movie with all the songs we love, written by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman. Famous for cartoons, Disney had a hard time convincing Travers he could do justice to her story with a combination of animation and live action but by 1961 she relented although she kept a firm grip on the project. “Travers was an adviser to the production. However, she disapproved of the dilution of the harsher aspects of Mary Poppins’ character, felt ambivalent about the music, and so hated the use of animation that she ruled out any further adaptations of the later Mary Poppins novels” (Wikipedia). Apparently, the original Mary Poppins was stern and pompous but wise. A pompous Mary Poppins would not likely have been nominated for thirteen Academy Awards, winning five, including Best Actress for Julie Andrews.

Mary Poppins: The Broadway Musical is a fusion of the Travers books and the Disney film; it opened in December 2004 in London’s West End and on Broadway in 2006 where it ran for 2,619 performances, closing in 2013.

Scott Walters and Kayla James
Credit: David Cooper

Kayla James is Mary Poppins in this Arts Club production and she will steal your heart. Petite and prim, but with a sparkle in her eye, she plays the role a little closer to Travers’ original than the much-loved Sara-Jeanne Hosie who starred in the 2013 and 2014 productions. James has a pure, clear voice, a daintiness about her that’s utterly enchanting, and when she lifts her Edwardian skirts and joins the chimney sweeps in the big tap dance number, “Step In Time”, James proves she is also a formidable hoofer.

As chimney sweep Bert, Scott Walters channels lovable Dick Van Dyke (who played the role in the film) while adding his own comedic licks. He finds all the colours – from bright to somber – in the recurring song, “Chim Chim Cher-ee”.

Milo Shandel makes a dignified yet troubled George Banks whose transformation is brought about by Mary Poppins and his devoted but unhappy wife, Mrs. Winifred Banks (warmly and graciously portrayed by Caitriona Murphy).

Glen Gordon, Kayla James and Elizabeth Irving
Credit: David Cooper

Katey Wright plays two completely different roles; as Mrs. Corry, famous for her gingerbread cookies, Wright is madcap and funny but as Mr. Banks’ own childhood nanny Miss Andrew, she’s witchy and nasty. Polar opposites are played out when Mary Poppins’ approach to child rearing (“A Spoonful of Sugar”) battles with Miss Andrew’s (“Brimstone and Treacle”). The Banks’ children are played like pros by sweetly earnest Elizabeth Irving and serious little Glen Gordon.

Alison Green’s fanciful sets are back; some old, some new, Sheila White’s costumes range from crazily colourful to elegant Edwardian; under the musical direction of Bruce Kellett, the six-piece orchestra is heard but not seen. Lively choreography is Valerie Easton’s.

To date, there are thirteen sold out performances so, “spit spot”, to quote Mary Poppins, you’ll want to take your inner child or another real live child and get to The Stanley to catch the “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” enchantment.

The Cast in the finale.
Credit: David Cooper