Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. But you won't need it. The national tour of Disney's Broadway version of Mary Poppins at the Bass Performance Hall is pure, eye-popping delight
The show is part of Performing Arts Fort Worth's Broadway at the Bass series, and runs for two weeks, which is unusual for Bass Hall.
The stage version, like the popular 1964 movie with Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, is definitely Disney, but Julian Fellowes, who wrote the musical's book, added numerous touches from the original series of books written by P.L. Travers in the 1930s and '40s. So, when the kids who know only the Disney movie ask, that's where those walking, talking park statues and Mrs. Corry and her conversation shop came from. Don't worry, there are plenty of the familiar and beloved elements and songs intact that the kids expect.
As we join the Banks household on Cherry Tree Lane, where precision and order rule, the family is saying goodbye to Katie Nanna, one of six nannies to abruptly leave in the last four months. The children, Jane and Michael, write their own want ad for a new governess, and almost as soon as the torn-up pieces of their efforts are swooshed out of the chimney, there she is: Mary Poppins, flowered hat, sensible shoes and parrot-head umbrella intact. The perfect nanny. With Mary Poppins comes fun and games, medicine that tastes like strawberry ice, messes that clean themselves up, and that fabulous, bottomless carpet bag that holds all of Mary's worldly belongings, including her hat rack. Oh sure, there are lessons to be learned, and not only for the children. But they go down just as easily as the strawberry ice.
It's no surprise that Mary Poppins, the musical, is in its sixth year on Broadway as well as a national tour. The production is bursting with Disney magic and fun. One of the most magical moments is when Mary, Bert and the kids enter the world of Bert's painting, when the stage transforms from a drab brown and gray London park to dazzling color so fast it almost makes your eyes ache. Dancing and singing gray statues take the place of penguin waiters in this version, but they are amazing to watch.
The show's big production numbers are spectacular with rich lighting, clever costumes and amazing choreography, particularly in "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," that includes mind-boggling precision-perfect movements. Another highlight is the chimney sweeps' tap number, "Step in Time," that features a gravity-dying tap solo by Bert.
The songs in the musical include songs written for the movie by Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman, like "A Spoonful of Sugar," "Feed the Birds" and "Let's Go Fly a Kite." Several of the Shermans' songs, including "Chim Chim Cher-ee," "Jolly Holiday" and "Step in Time" were updated by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, who also added seven new songs to the production. Those include "Practically Perfect," "Being Mrs. Banks" and a fantastic bit of nastiness called "Brimstone and Treacle" sung by Miss Andrew, the nanny antithesis to practically perfect Mary. The song shows up again in a wicked dueling nannies bit between the two.
Rachel Wallace is the total embodiment of Mary Poppins. She's sweet, yet firm. Fun, but businesslike when it's time to be. She's a bundle of energy with a beautiful soprano voice. Her pal, the jack-of-all-trades Bert, is played by a rakish, charming Case Dillard, who was in the show's original Broadway company.
Young actors Marissa Ackerman and Zach Timson were Jane and Michael for Wednesday's opening night performance. Ackerman's prissy Jane was the balance needed for Timson's goofball high-jinks as Michael.
These four are supported by a slew of adults from Michael Dean Morgan as the uptight, structured Mr. Banks to Q. Smith as the heart-breaking Bird Woman. Tregoney Shepherd as Mrs. Brill and Blake Segal as Robertson, the other Banks family servants, provide plenty of comic enhancement.
There are two negatives. One, the show feels a little long, especially for the kiddoes or those adults with short attention spans. It probably could have been edited down. And second, in case you're wondering, yes, Mary Poppins flies. But on a much smaller and less spectacular scale as she did when the tour made its way through the Dallas Music Hall in Fair Park (or on Broadway and the West End in London). One look at the height of the Bass Hall ceiling pretty much explains why that adjustment was made.
There are plenty more magical moments to savor other than an air-born Mary. She's only in town until April 8 before the wind changes and she's on her way again, so plan accordingly. Spit-spot.
◊ Keep watching TheaterJones, as we'll have a ticket giveaway for the Tuedsay, April 3 performance of Mary Poppins.