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A Not So Jolly Holiday with Mary Poppins

Review by Shawn Maus of Mary Poppins: Covedale Theatre

Director Tim Perrino notes in the Playbill that “though the stage musical [Mary Poppins] is not completely the same as the movie, it has the beautiful music, deep life lessons and a sense of magic in the air that will inspire your kids to sing and dance throughout your house this Christmastime.”

The children in the audience on opening night, and some adults, would heartily disagree. The child sitting behind me kept asking when he could go home. There weren’t massive applause. What applause there was, well, let’s call it polite.

There are many faults with the script adaptation. It’s very dark and not very Disney-like. It’s scary in some places (“Playing the Game” looked like it should have been titled “Revenge of the Misfit Toys”), haughty to the point of being dictatorial (“Practically Perfect”) and inconsistent in the acting. The additional music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe are prickly at best and dampen the bright spirits of the Sherman brothers original score – and the holiday mood Perrino hopes to fire up.

The set design by Brett Bowling was functional for the stage crew and set designer. It did nothing for firing up the imagination. While the Covedale’s production can’t afford the spectacle of Disney magic, the show felt like Sweeney Todd designed it. One would need a spoonful of sugar to digest the harsh soot and community theatre efforts of the design.

The choreography by Maggie Perrino would have matched the Sherman Brothers score but the cast seemed very stoic and leaden on opening night. Musical Director Steve Goers kept the orchestra under control although sound board operator Heather Stamm detracted from the performance. The spot light operators seemed to be following Mary’s statement “anything can happen” as the spots either struggled to find their marks or were tossed around like a kite in search of the actors.

Despite this production’s lack of glitter and magic, Matt Dentino (Bert) captures the essence of Dick Van Dyke from the film. Denning’s skills shine brightest on Covedale’s stage. He commanded every scene and his British enunciation was flawless and clearly understood. He even managed to keep the audience focused while Mary Poppins’s flying rig drooped into his face.

Author P.L. Travers was not enamored of the Disney-fication of her beloved Mary Poppins. She swore that as long as she was alive, Disney would never defile her beloved Mary Poppins again. And she stuck to her guns, even in death: Travers’ last will and testament stated specifically that if a stage musical was to be made, the Sherman Brothers could not be involved, only English-born writers could be used—no Americans—and absolutely no one from the original film production was to be involved.

Based on her anger at Disney, I get the feeling that if Ms. Travers were still around, she would add this production – even with its English-born writers – so that “the real Mary Poppins remained within the covers of the books.”

But since Walt Disney himself strongly disliked negativity saying, “If you can’t think of something to improve it, then keep your mouth shut,” perhaps I should toss this review up the chimney. Chim-Chim-Cheroo.