Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Show & Tell Review: Mary Poppins

Wow. I am not a musical kind of guy, but this show was absolutely amazing.

My 10-year-old son Nolan and I were lucky enough to have seen Mary Poppins last night at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center as part of the Show & Tell Kid's Review, and all I can say is "wow."

If you can, go get tickets NOW to see this show. Go ahead. We'll wait for you. Go. Now.

Back? Okay, then on with the review…

I have been to numerous shows at the Fox Cities P.A.C., but I have never witnessed such a buzz around a show. I'm not talking about media buzz or what critics might be saying. I'm talking about the energy from the crowd. From the minute we entered the lobby, you could feel it. There was an excitement in the air that I have never noticed at a show before.

“There are a million more people here than I was expecting,” Nolan said as we walked through the lobby. “I have a feeling this is going to be great!”

The “buzz” continued through the entire show. I have heard people "hoot," "whoohoo," and whistle before while applauding, but never like last night. There was an overwhelming sense of appreciation and frivolity after every number. The audience clapping in rhythm during the big "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" number (which by the way, was awesome in the truest sense of the word) was a further testament. The cast goes into another chorus of the song at the end of the show and the audience actually sang along. It was refreshingly fun. And crazy. And… well, wow.

“The 'Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious' dance and song was one of my favorites,” said Nolan. “It was super colorful. And the dance moves they did were cool.”

All the iconic images from Disney's story were there - "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" (you try spelling that one!), a flying Mary Poppins, "A Spoonful of Sugar," "Chim Chim Cher-ee," the chimney sweeper dance scene, and more. Having never seen the classic movie, I was amazed at how familiar so much of the music and scenes were to me. Both myself and Nolan woke up in the morning humming songs from the show.

I did not mind the music at all. Nolan however, felt there were a lot of songs. "They could have used fewer songs, I think. When they were telling the story by singing it was sometimes confusing and hard to follow.”

The performances across the board were great. Rachel Wallace as Mary Poppins brought the character to life with the perfect bit of magic and an amazing voice. I was also very impressed with Cherish Meyers who played Jane Banks, the daughter of George and Winifred. To be so young and have such stage presence and vocal skills is really quite impressive. According to Nolan, “The whole cast was super talented. Especially the guy who tap-danced on the ceiling. What if those cables snapped?”

Having arrived twenty minutes or so before show time, Nolan and I decided to check out the orchestra pit. It was an opportunity to explain how musicals are done, where the conductor stood, and the instruments that are used. “It was really cool to see all those instruments," said Nolan. “But when the music started, it seemed like there were a million more people playing instruments than just the few down there. And when they did play it sounded like they were sitting right next to you. It didn’t sound like they were in the pit. They played nice and loud.”

Mary Poppins was excellent in all facets, but there were a few things that stood out. The "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" number was fantastic. The stage came alive with dancers and singers, and the colors were truly amazing. The chimney sweeper dance scene was equally impressive and displayed an ingeniously entertaining use of cables to perform a bit of ceiling/wall dancing magic.

Speaking of magic… another neat aspect of the show was how it presented the use of Mary Poppins' magic. Small spinning lights (reminded me of a disco ball reflection) were projected onto the area where the magic was being used. Sometimes it was something specific - like the cuckoo clock - and other times the lights enveloped the entire stage. A rather simple idea, but quite effective nonetheless. Little bits of magic to look for include Mary Poppins' slide up the staircase railing, the creation of an entire bed out of a small blanket, and the removal of a six foot tall coat rack from Mary Poppins' small travel bag. Nolan also like the travel bag magic. “It was cool to see Mary Poppins pull all those big things out of her suitcase. How’d they do that?”

Aside from signifying magic, lighting was also used to set the mood and intent of characters. Without a doubt, every time Mary Poppins steps foot on the stage, everything brightens. Colors become more vibrant and the entire stage lights up. But when the evil Mrs. Andrew arrives and starts doling out her "Brimstone And Treacle," green and yellow fill the sets to reinforce the sickening feeling her presence and "medicine" brings about. And the scenes without Mary Poppins’ were often bathed in a dull, dim light, emphasizing how unfun and unmagical things were.

I could go on about the vibrant costumes or Case Dillard’s performance as Bert or the set design, but I think I have heaped praise enough on Mary Poppins. I can only say it was enjoyable and fun in so many different ways. Instead, I’ll let Nolan finish things out…

“I really loved the first act. It was very, very colorful. The scenery and costumes were colorful too, and creative. The statues were kind of freaky though. Statues aren’t supposed to move! When they first started moving, it really freaked me out. But they were cool. The old banker guys in the second act were pretty funny. Their reactions to Mr. Banks really made me laugh.

“Some of my favorite scenes were the kite song ["Let’s Go Fly A Kite"] and the scene before they sang "A Spoonful of Sugar" when everything breaks and explodes. I really liked the part where the guy walked on the walls. That was neat.

“If an adult asked me what I thought about the play, I’d say, ‘It was a good play. You should go see it if you can. Especially if you’re an artist. An artist would probably be inspired by all the colors.’”

Nolan’s response when I asked him to sum up the play in one word: “Amazing.” Personally, I’d go with “Wow.”

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