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His name is Roberto and his age...three? Three and a half? Small enough to require one of those square booster cushions kid-friendly Broadway shows provide. And he was a chatty one -- in Italian -- pointing and commenting on everything and everyone in the minutes leading up to the start of the show. “Sommesso, Roberto!,” from the pretty young nanny on his right. “Lower your voice,” was my guess from his left.
Looking around the New Amsterdam Theatre as Bert (chimney sweep/jack-of-all-trades) eased into the opening notes of “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” I was struck by how internationally diverse the weeknight audience was -- and how little the language spoken on stage seemed to matter. Theatregoers, whatever their country of origin or age, were more than happy to let Mary Poppins wash over them in non-stop waves of spectacle and endless surprises that pop up around every nook, cranny, tree, banister, statue and chimney.
And unquestionably, it’s the unexpected -- from little touches like cameo appearances by the adorable puppet dog Willoughby to the “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” candy shop teeming with multicolored eccentrics -- that make the show so universally appealing.
Produced by Disney and Cameron Mackintosh, Mary Poppins at Broadway’s New Amsterdam Theatre is based on the beloved children’s stories by P.L. Travers (yes, liberties have been taken so purists beware!) and the 1964 Oscar-winning film starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke.
But it’s the mind-blowing New York stage production, racking up devoted fans going on four years now, that’s set the standard for 21st-century musical theatre fantasy. Plus, there’s the cast—a dynamite collection of musical theatre veterans including Christian Borle (Legally Blonde) as Bert and the London production’s original Mary, Olivier Award-winner Laura Michelle Kelly.
Set in London, much of the action takes place at “No. 17 Cherry Lane,” the Victorian home of the Banks family, whose problems prior to Miss Poppin’s arrival mirror some very contemporary issues: father George, a workaholic who sinks into depression when he loses his job; mother Winifred, a former actress floundering in the role as wife and mother; and children, Jane and Michael, selfish, spoiled, bratty and craving a spoonful of affection from their absentee dad.
Fortunately, Mary’s wondrous hocus-pocus comes wrapped up in timeless life lessons that can’t help but strike a chord with today’s young theatergoers, who automatically reach for their cell phones during intermission, yet gaze in breathless wonder as Mary flies over their heads in a breathtaking grand finale.
And, like all gifts from Disney, the happy ending (in this case for the Banks family) extends to the audience, who exit the theatre blissfully humming “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” and craving another helping of “A Spoonful of Sugar.”
Mary Poppins is playing at the New Amsterdam Theater (214 W. 42nd St.). For reservations, call 866-870-2717 or click here.
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