on Tuesday morning I had to report to the Kings County courthouse for Jury Duty. On Wednesday evening through the good graces of hammerride I attended a performance of Disney’s Mary Poppins on Broadway. I’m hard put to say which I found more difficult to sit through. I usually only hit one or two Broadway plays a year, and because of my scattershot financial planning it’s usually when someone else gives me a ticket. That’s the case here, although since it is part of hammerride‘s job to attend these things, and spare tickets are not an unusual occurrence for him, I feel slightly less of a cad for looking this particular gift horse squarely in its yawning mouth. (plus, I know that he shared my distress at the event and what is worse had to then sit down to a q&a with the cast and director afterwards)
Firstly: save your money. The sum you would pay for a ticket to this thing would allow you to buy a copy of the DVD of the original film, copies of each of the eight Travers’ books, and a copy of the biography of Travers herself. From these materials you could concoct an infinitely more entertaining series of evenings than you would ever encounter within the confines of the New Amsterdam Theater.
I feel for the participants in this show: like most recent Disney productions, it is conceived as a “star-proof” machine that will run endlessly regardless of who is in it. That being the case, individual actors and actresses are given little to do other than ride around the mechanized set, singing songs and dropping one or two lines of dialog that are intended to represent entire emotional dilemmas as well as bridging to the next set piece. The film, for all that it did to trample the original spirit of Travers’ books at least had the virtue of giving charasmatic performers something to do with their talents. Julie Andrews got to be creamy and steely as is her wont, and Dick Van Dyke got to be lanky and funny. There is very little to care about for the whole evening in this version. The emotional crux has shifted from the spiritual life of the children to the stunted humanity of the father. This constant focusing on the problems of fathering in popular entertainment, this mopey patriarchy is something that I lay at Spielberg’s door, and it revolts me. There is something abusive about having Michael and Jane Banks be yelled at by their martinet father, then be put on trial by their toys for losing their tempers and then have to have to publicly empathize with their father because he had a bad nanny growing up, (not to mention making his wife blithely give up any notion of returning to her acting career because as she informs him: “I wasn’t very good at it anyway”) especially since this adds additional flab to an evening that runs a good forty minutes too long as it is. As if that were not enough, we are also given in the place of capering penguin waiters, a sad statue that is seeking to be reunited with his father. Why? But I’m talking about this as if it were a play; it is not.
What it is, is a nearly three hour long pageant that attempts to remind people of all of the other fine Disney products that they could also own while also providing steady work for a stream of Radio Disney ingénues who will now don the brown wig, hoist the parrot headed umbrella and stand stock still while they are dragged around the theater on wires. If that fails to delight the audience enough they will be given two (and in some cases three) separate opportunities to clap along with some favorite songs, and to marvel at the relentless churnings of the big Edwardian house set. The thing ends with a long tedious number that asserts, insipidly, that “marvelous things will happen if we let them”. That goes for the creators of theatrical entertainments as well: if they had let the talented people on stage actually do something, something marvelous might actually have occurred.