This MARY POPPINS takes some getting used to. As played by Ashley Brown, she’s
quite aloof and inapproachable with an affect that is seemingly plastic. That’s
plastic meaning not real; but it’s also plastic in the poetic sense as
in “the plastic hand of god”. Poppins, the one who gives meaning
to life, is the story’s deus ex machina.
As directed by Richard Eyre the production works like well oiled machinery
with the kind of precision and order the family patron, George Banks so strives
for. As played by Daniel Jenkins, he is a stern sovereign and distant dad and
even when transformed, by Poppins of course, he registers tenderness without
an excess of personality.
In fact, most of the characters in Cameron Mackintosh’s revival of the
children’s classic appear slightly cold and inhuman. So, it’s not
the sticky sentimental lure that draws us into this heartfelt experience, but
the obvious absence of it works like a magnet. In this environment, Rebecca
Luker is a delicious counterpoint, creating a generic mom who expresses matronly
warmth and fragility.
As for their incorrigible children, it’s Michael who has most of the
personality. As portrayed the night I saw the show by Henry Hodges, he is terminally
cute. The most captivating performance here, though, is Gavin Lee who plays
Bert, Poppins’ ally, a chimney sweep and organ grinder who’s too
dirty for children to touch, but who paints the world in fantastic colors.
Gavin’s forte is dancing and his lithe form and effervescence are among
the production’s showiest highlights, especially when he taps his away
around the proscenium arch dancing upside down above the stage only to return
all verve and vigor robustly tapping terra firma.
With Matthew Bourne’s choreography every moment of this production is
a conceit of fantastic imagery. The dance of the naked marble statues in the
park is one. The pastel costumed citizens of London who join them are another.
And the toys that come to life to warn the children about the stiff sentence
they’ll face for temper tantrums and acting out are magnificent, “even
though the look of them is really quite atrocious.”
Of course the story’s moral lies not in how we punish others, but
in how we honor them. How we choose the “good person” over the “good
idea”. That concept of humanity spills over in the show’s buoyant
musical scene in Mrs. Corry’s candy store, where the patrons, Poppins included,
burst into hosannas of “supercalifgragilisticexpialidocious”. More
than just “a spoonful of sugar”, it happens in “the most delightful
Thats This Week on Broadway. Im Isa Goldberg.