A Classic Movie Brought to Life on Stage: Mary Poppins



 As a kid Mary Poppins was a favorite film. Of couse unlike my children I only watched Mary Poppins and other classic kid’s films once. There was no DVD or DVR in my house. I was a teen before we had a video cassette recorder.



Mary Poppins was memorable even after seeing it once. The characterization of the very proper nanny thrust in to the slightly disorganized Banks home was memorable. Oh and let’s not forget the unforgettable Dick van Dyke as Bert. As a kid living in England, I can forgive Dick van Dyke’s appalling British accent solely on the basis of his dancing and antics.

Recently, I had the chance to catch the stage version of Mary Poppins at the Kennedy Center. The show debuted on Broadway in 2006 and is still running at the New Amsterdam Theater. This touring version of Mary Poppins originated in Chicago in ‘09. Mary Poppins is a co-production of Disney and acclaimed director Cameran Mackintosh.

The Kennedy Center is a national memorial to John F. Kennedy, as well as home to several performance spaces. The Kennedy Center, which overlooks the Potomac River, is located off Rock Creek Parkway at F Street. The Kennedy Center presents more than 2,000 performance of theater, musicals, dance, orchestral, jazz, and cutting edge multimedia programs.

The touring production of Mary Poppins will be at the Kennedy Center through August 22. The Kennedy Center is not short of performance spaces. The Opera House is home to the Lobmeyr chandelier and the site of the illustrious Kennedy Center Honors. The Opera House stage has been transformed to accommodate the massive stage structure for the Mary Poppins production. The Banks house rotates. I was given a backstage tour where I could a glimpse of Bert’s chimney sweep brushes and Mr. Banks’ desk and ledger.

The performance is not a strict rendering of the movie. I suspect that the new stage version is more true to the book  by P.L. Travers, which I read as a child. The stage version stands on its own. The characterization is still strong….Mary Poppins is the nanny who will get it done….Mr. Banks is the clueless dad…Bert is well Bert — irrepressible and a “diamond in the rough.” The kids — Jane and Michael Banks — are edgier than the movie. Michael is a wee bit grumpy and whiny for me. I think today’s kids would like the spunk that the Banks children show in the face of family upheaval.

The scene from the movie I was most interested in seeing on stage was the park scene. You know the one with the white outfits, the carousel, and the penguins. The staged version had some but not all of the elements shown in the movie. There’s an extended dance where a statue comes to life. I liked this scene, but wanted the stage show to reflect the movie. Of course the movie version would be almost impossible to stage. By the end of this scene, I was ready to accept that I liked the stage version due to clever choreography and reinterpretation of a key scene from the movie.

All in all, Mary Poppins is a fun show. Our group was treated to a backstage tour. We were shown the back of the set. I was fascinated by the pieces of scenery that are lifted on to the stage. The Banks’ house rotates and moves to reveal different rooms. I was thrilled to see a bin of Bert’s chimney brushes and Mr. Banks’ desk and ledger.

Mary Poppins will be performed at the Opera House through August 22. Performances are evenings at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday matinees at 1:30 p.m. There will be a special matinee perrformance on Wednesday, August 18. Tickets start as low as $25. Tickets can be purchased in person from the Kennedy Center Box Office, by calling 202-467-4600 or 1-800-444-1324 or online.

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