This review was originally published to Broadway World on July 15, 2016
If North Shore Music Theatre's production of Mary Poppins was conceived to prove Murphy's Law right (Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong), then producer Bill Hanney and director Kevin P. Hill have crafted a masterpiece. Perhaps it's best described through the disbelief of Michael Banks following an afternoon spent rollicking in the park with his mystical nanny; "Did that really just happen?" It certainly did and with a calamitous kerplunk.
Director Kevin P. Hill shakes out a knockoff carpet bag's worth of reused tricks onto the stage with "precision and order" resembling an elephant running mad through the bleachers of a circus. You might find Hill's vision onstage if you squint your eyes and tilt your head, but the show's sun faded color palette, limp choreography, and hollow set makes P.L. Travers' beloved characters appear more like their evil twins. Bert is now a dubious carnival barker!
This approach clouds what made previous adaptations a smash and restricts the audience from comprehending the journey Jane and Michael are taking with Mary. I thankfully knew the story, but my companion was less acclimated and spent the whole time wondering what was happening and why. My condolences to anyone introduced to Mary Poppins this way. Trying to follow along to the fragments successfully making it off the stage would be like watching a Tom Stoppard play performed in Chinese.
The material for the stage version of Mary Poppins is uneven and easily the weakest of its three versions (book, film, stage). It combines the classic Sherman brothers music with the inferior new work of Stiles & Drew and has a collection of vignettes by Julian Fellowes for its book. In spite of all that, Disney did what Disney does best: pumped it with millions of dollars, hired the most talented designers and produced it to the heavens with a technical overlay ranking as one of Broadway's best. Disney magic sparkled throughout.
North Shore Music Theatre's resources are miniature in comparison and that is not criticism. However NSMT insists on replicating what Disney presented on Broadway instead of creatively inventing ways to make Mary and her magic fit their theatre-in-the-round. Lack of imagination and stage magic are not the only troubles facing Mary Poppins. Wednesday's opening night was plagued from start to finish with set, costume, and prop follies. Mic packs died mid-song, set pieces mysteriously rolled on and offstage with no purpose and the scenes occurring in the aisles became too close for comfort. Audience members struck in the face with props: 3.
Precision and order were once synonymous with North Shore Music Theatre. Some of the most colorful experiences from my youth came out of NSMT. They reached beyond adolescence and into young adulthood. Their 2008 Bye Bye Birdie remains the best mounting of that show I've seen. Today, we are served musicals like Mary Poppins with heaping spoonfuls of "brimstone and treacle" at the eye-popping cost of $79.
Up next at North Shore Music Theatre is Singin' In The Rain and "yes, it will rain!" Consider Mary Poppins a warning shot and pack your rain jacket. You're guaranteed a monsoon.