"Mary Poppins" pops into the Marcus Center
We should all have Mary Poppins occasionally drop into our lives to spread a little magic and jolt us out of our ruts. The good news is that she is here for a week, soaring over the Uihlein Hall stage at the Marcus Center.
A national touring company of the musical theater version of "Mary Poppins" has settled in Downtown, and adults may be surprised by how much they will enjoy it.
Most of us were introduced to the uncanny nanny in the big screen version of the "Poppins" tales, and the 1964 Disney film wove her into the fabric of our popular culture. The movie freely adapted material from the series of "Mary Poppins" books English author P.L. Travers wrote, beginning in the 1930s. His final volume was published 24 years after the film debuted.
Based on the movie, the stage version we are seeing here is a collaboration between British theatrical producer Cameron Mackintosh ("Cats," "Les Miz," "The Phantom of the Opera") and Disney that was initially mounted in London in 2004. A Broadway production opened two years later and is still running.
The film's terrific original score by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman has been augmented with new music written by composer George Styles and lyricist Anthony Drewe. Julian Fellowes, who has created scripts for "Downton Abbey," wrote the new libretto.
The production is vibrantly designed and benefits from the detailed eye of director Richard Eyre, who ran England's National Theatre for a decade. The show is savvy and crisp, although some malfunctioning scenery forced a second, unplanned intermission on opening night here. You can't be too annoyed by some balky machinery when you are later rewarded with chimney sweep Bert tap dancing upside down across the top of the Uihlein Hall proscenium.
Case Dillard, who plays Bert, accomplishes that bit of special effects wizardry. As eye popping as inverted hoofing may be, the show is more reliant on the character's cheeky cockney charm for energy, and Dillard delivers.
That is especially crucial in this production, because Rachel Wallace portrays Mary Poppins as more of a familiar avatar than a person. The famous nanny is supposed to be a bit tart and brusque, but we have to believe blood runs through her veins. Though she sings the role well, Wallace moves and acts with a mechanical stiffness.
Waukesha native Michael Dean Morgan, who previously stopped here in a national tour of "The Lion King," certainly doesn't have that problem. Playing the Scrooge-like banker whose two unhappy children desperately need Mary Poppins, Morgan paints a sharp portrait of a cranky and preoccupied father learning some valuable life lessons.
The kids are double cast, and the opening night tandem of Marissa Ackerman and Zach Timson were particularly well focused and expressive.
This "Mary Poppins" is a heaping spoonful of sugar.
Disappointment at the Boulevard
Sugar is not an ingredient in the plays of Conor McPherson, who ranks among the most interesting and affecting of contemporary Irish dramatists. His pieces, marinated in his country's culture, cut deeply and directly to the heart of the human condition.
Several of his works have been staged in Milwaukee, and any opportunity to see a McPherson play here is to be celebrated. However, I am disappointed Boulevard Ensemble Theatre artistic director Mark Bucher chose to tinker and tamper with "This Lime Tree Bower," one of the Irishman's early works, by changing a character's gender and adding actor-ish embellishments to what is supposed to be alternating monologues.
Trust the playwright and the audience.
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