“Mary Poppins” is a headline writer’s dream.
A great staging can be summed up in one word: Supercalifragilisticexpialidocius. Performance not worth attending? Go fly a kite.
It’s also an unequivocal showcase for the female lead, with the production’s success resting squarely on the title character’s shoulders.
Consider Broadway in Chicago’s current run of the Disney musical, then, the Midwest cotillion for Rachel Wallace. Broadway producers should be taking note of this high-flying Poppins with a, until now, pedestrian resume. Because, as the song says, she is practically perfect in every way.
The first 10 minutes of “Mary Poppins” introduces London’s Banks family and the show narrator, chimney sweep Burt. But Broadway veterans Laird Mackintosh as detached patriarch George Banks and Nicolas Dromard as Burt control neither the frenetic pace of Banks family life nor its unnecessarily hurried and hard-to-grasp stage depiction.
And then Wallace’s Mary Poppins appears. (Insert appropriate calming sigh.)
Singing “Practically Perfect” and restoring semblances of calm, order, joy and appropriate mischief into the Banks home, Wallace takes over. And with three-quarters of the show still ahead, the audience collectively settles in, ready to sample from the dessert tray passed its way.
And what an exquisite dessert tray it is. Gorgeously innovative sets reminiscent of a 3-D coloring book earn plaudits for scenic and costume designer Bob Crowley and lighting designer Howard Harrison, whose work accentuates the black-and-white drabness of a banker’s life engrossed in numbers, contrasted with the colorful vibrancy of shared, interpersonal joy.
The work of choreographers Matthew Bourne and Stephen Mear, particularly on the showstopping numbers “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocius,” Step in time,” and “Anything Can Happen,” is nothing short of the first of these titles.
While typical reviews report mostly (and rightly) on cast performances, these behind-the-scenes professionals take the penultimate bow before Wallace for this production. It’s the audience’s underlying expectation of their creativity and professionalism (along with expected talent on stage) that allows “Broadway” tickets in New York and Chicago to command top dollar. These four men deliver in spades.
For careful spenders of their entertainment budgets, “Mary Poppins” is an indulgence that does not disappoint. Cast nods go to Blythe Wilson as Winifred Banks and the haunting Janet McEwen as the Bird Woman. Male leads Mackintosh and Dromard find their groove once Wallace appears, particularly in Act 2.
At its core, “Mary Poppins” is a parenting lesson and morality tale, teaching us to focus on the important things in life—specifically, people. (A full synopsis of the show is here.)
Those attending a Chicago performance of the mystical tale, however, are encouraged to focus on just one person, because she’s likely to be seen and heard from again. It won’t be hard to find her; she’s the one with the umbrella, soaring to new heights.
“Mary Poppins” plays through November 6 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph, Chicago. Tickets start at $25 and are available at 800-775-2000 or ticketmaster.com. More information at BroadwayinChicago.com.
About the author: Barry Reszel is a Libertyville-based writer, at-home dad and executive director of the not-for-profit entertainment company Liberty Town Productions. www.libertytownprodctions.com