Review: Sure, Mary flies, but Bert sweeps into our hearts
Mary Poppins, the magical nanny who's "Practically Perfect," has flown into town, but it's Nicolas Dromard's endearing, ceiling-tapping Bert who steals the show.
The national tour of the 2006 Broadway musical touched down for a four-week run at Capitol Theatre on Friday night. And just as you'd expect, this Disneyified adaptation (co-produced by Cameron Mackintosh of "Les Mizerables," "Cats" and "Phantom of the Opera" fame) delivers Broadway-sized spectacle.
If you care about character development or a subtly unfolding plot, you'll be disappointed, because this overstuffed musical delivers too many homilies along with its eye candy and dramatic magic.
But if you're awed by fantastical sets (an unfolding house!), clever costumes (Supercalifragilisticexpialidociously colored!) and a superb vocally and physically talented ensemble (tap-dancing chimney sweeps rock the rooftops in "Step in Time!"), this production delivers your money's worth.
Like the rest of the leads, Steffanie Leigh as Mary Poppins has a richly colored voice, but her title character, nodding back to P.L. Travis' original stories, remains buttoned up and impervious throughout. Baby boomer parents will miss the warmth of Julie Andrews' beloved nanny in the classic 1964 Disney movie.
Leigh's nanny delivers so many unyielding lines, such as "I never explain anything," while leading "Playing The Game," a slightly creepy toys-gone-wild-in-the-nursery number, that it's difficult to know how those Banks kids sleep at night.
The sharp edges of the character's personality make it difficult to believe Bert when he sings, in "Jolly Holiday" about how "your heart starts beating like a big brass band" when Mary holds your hand. One number where the character exposes a bit of heart is in the dance added to the crowd-pleasing song about that super-sized word, the motions of which I saw a handful of theatergoers imitating on their way out of the theater.
Many of the musical's additions are unsuccessful, such as the earnest lyrics of "Being Mrs. Banks" (delivered with aplomb by Blythe Wilson's Winifred Banks), which attempts to explain the mother's milquetoast character, or the mean-spirited way Mary Poppins vanquishes Mr. Banks' childhood nanny, known as the Holy Terror.
Kids in the opening-night crowd seemed to identify with the characters of Michael and Jane Banks (played in alternating roles by 13-year-old Utahn Talon Ackerman and Tyler Merna and Camille Mancuso and Marissa Smoker), who have bigger parts and are brattier in this adaptation than in the film.
While both young actors are packed with personality, Michael's character delivers most of the laugh lines, such as when he repeatedly calls out Mary Poppins for her trickiness. A sharp-edged shrillness in Jane's delivery swallows many of her character's lines. Throughout the show, other characters' lines are lost, too, swallowed by Cockney accents or the power of an exuberant live orchestra.
Which brings us full-circle to what makes Dromard's role such a show-stealer. The actor looks the part of Bert, thanks to a loose-limbed physical charm reminiscent of Dick Van Dyke, but it was his acting that claimed the working-class character as his own.
"This is harder than it looks," Bert understates to the audience, as he begins tap-dancing up the wall, singing all the while, the stunt capped by a key change (!) while he's upside down at the top of the theater's proscenium arch. The authenticity of the line explains everything about acting and theatrical spectacle and his character, all at once.
P This overstuffed Broadway-scaled production delivers eye-candy spectacle and powerhouse voices and too many homilies.
When • Reviewed Friday; continues through Sept. 25; 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday
Where • Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $30-$135 at 801-255-2787 or http://www.ArtTix.org
Running time • Two hours and 45 minutes, including 20 minute intermission