Presented by Wheelock Family Theatre
Based on the stories by PL Travers and the Walt Disney film
Music and lyrics by Richard M Sherman and Robert B Sherman
Book by Julian Fellows
New songs and additional music by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe
Co-created by Cameron Mackintosh
Directed/choreographed by Russell Garrett
Music directed by Robert L Rucinski
Review by Kitty Drexel
(Boston, MA) The adaptation of a beloved movie into a musical theatre production can be a sticky business. On the one hand, it is necessary to tread carefully in order to honor the childhood memories (or other) of an audience. On the other, there’s a story to tell. Something usually gets lost in translation. In the instance of Mary Poppins at Wheelock Family Theatre, it’s the story that suffers. Worry not! The performances still enthrall.
Poppins is the Cameron Mackintosh theatrical beastie based on the stories of P.L. Travers and the Walt Disney film. The show is overwhelming in length and in depth. We meet the same beloved characters plus a few more. We hear the same beloved songs plus a few more. The movie runs at 2 hours and 20 minutes. The musical runs past 3 hours. Add the gorgeous costumes by Elisabetta Polito and the kicky choreography from Russell Garrett, it’s a lot to ask of little kids to sit through it with only one intermission.
The book by Julian Fellows is not very good. Despite its length, the book rushes character interaction and disallows the audience to react on their own time. Yes, it follows the movie plot of embracing kindness and shirking rigid gender roles until it veers off to the right by introducing new characters that aren’t necessary to the plot. That being said, it’s a tightly written book. Garrett and music director Rucinski couldn’t have cut too much from the production without crippling the production. The options are either rewrite what the creators have made (and face legal ramifications) or do the best with what one has. Wheelock chose the latter.
Conversely, the new music and songs by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe are unexpectedly lovely. The melodies are positively magical and certainly channel the original music by Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman. Any person, tot or other, memorizing the lyrics through repeated listening will be introduced to a bright vocabulary. For example, in “Anything Can Happen” marvel is rhymed with larval in the context of becoming a butterfly. It’s cute and educational.
The cast is marvelous. The diverse ensemble is a joy to watch as per usual. The leads are exceptional. If you’ve no other reason to see Poppins, Lisa Yuen as the title character beats all others. There’s no other way to say it; she’s practically perfect in every way. The exception being that her costume design overwhelms her. Ignore this tiny detail and she’s still a wonder.
Mary Poppins has only one other flaw. Mrs Corry (a well hoofed Shannon Lee Jones) has an accent. It sounds strangely Jamaican. I’m going to assume that this is not the intention.
In Poppins no one hurts; no one is even unhappy for too long. We’re taught to respect those who are different from us, and that we aren’t defined by the limitations placed on us by others. Appearances only matter to those who dictate them. The story ends on a positive note, figuratively and literally. It’s nice. Mary Poppins is a nice show.