Before television’s Supernanny, since way back in 1964, families everywhere have been entertained as the result of a simple truth: No one embodies the perfect nanny better than Mary Poppins.
Created by author Pamela Travers in 1934, famously portrayed by Julie Andrews in the ’64 Disney movie, Mary finally hit London, Broadway and touring stages in 2004, thanks to a producing partnership between Disney and Les Misérables producer Cameron Mackintosh. The musical version of Mary Poppins, with a script by Oscar winner Julian Fellowes and songs by two sets of composers (Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman from the movie, George Stiles and Anthony Drewe with new songs and musical adaptations), has already visited South Florida once, playing the Broward Center in the summer of 2010.
Now Mary and her flying umbrella with the parrot-head handle have come floating back, this time for a brief run through Sunday at Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. The audience, despite an ouch-inducing $99 for the best seats in the house, is jam-packed with excited moms, dads and little ones who already know the Sherman brothers’ part of the score thanks to the in-home handiness of DVDs. But the truth is that, despite some impressive highlights, the Miami crowd isn’t getting a show as good as the one Fort Lauderdale audiences saw.
Culprit No. 1 is the blasting yet sometimes muddy sound, which rhymes with “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” – as in “atrocious.” The volume at times soars toward a rock concert level of pain, and some actors (Madison Mullahey, who shares the role of bratty Jane Banks with Julianna Rigoglioso, is but one example) are nearly unintelligible. If you can’t understand lyrics and experience them at a level that doesn’t make your eardrums throb, it’s tough to enjoy the show, even one as beloved as Mary Poppins.
The large company doesn’t disappoint when it comes to performing Matthew Bourne’s flashy choreography, adapted for the tour by Geoffrey Garratt. From the body-bending spelling routine on Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious to the show-off chimney sweeps of Step in Time, the dancing is first-rate — as the sweet-on-Mary Bert, Con O’Shea-Creal impressively delivers the show stopper, tapping his way around the theater’s proscenium arch.
Tonya Thompson sparkles as sweet shop owner Mrs. Corry, and Karen Murphy shows her versatility in the dual parts of the downtrodden Bird Woman and the scenery-chewing nanny from hell. Elizabeth Broadhurst has some poignant moments as Winifred Banks, the former actress who feels inadequate in her role as stay-at-home mum, but understudy Ben Cherry, subbing as the workaholic Mr. Banks, comes across as a grumpily exaggerated mismatch. As the other Banks brat Michael, Eli Tokash (alternating with Zachary Mackiewicz) does his petulant thing.
Pretty Madeline Trumble plays the title role with smiling confidence and a rather self-satisfied air, particularly when Mary is making a not-so-funny wisecrack. Her singing voice is powerful (an understatement, given that cranked-up sound), but she sings with an exaggerated vibrato that isn’t at all easy on the ear.
Like the pop-up book scenery that forms the Banks family’s main living space at 17 Cherry Tree Lane, Miami’s touring Mary Poppins seems flimsy and not all that well drawn. And the sweet story of a dysfunctional family made whole by the wisdom of a magical nanny gets drowned in a sonic tidal wave.