The winds were blowing Wednesday night, which could only mean that "Mary Poppins" had arrived in Dallas at the Music Hall at Fair Park for only her second Dallas visit. Playing to a full house with audience members singing along with Mary’s classic songs -- sometime encouragingly and sometimes impulsively -- the national tour of "Mary Poppins" is a qualified success as is the Broadway "Mary Poppins" which played for over six years and just closed earlier this month.
And while it will make no difference to anyone born after 1980, to a certain demographic to which this reviewer belongs, "Mary Poppins" will always be the 1964 Disney film starring the practically perfect Julie Andrews. Nearly 24 years before Roger Rabbit appeared, "Mary Poppins" merged live action with animation. Like many of my contemporaries, we watched "Mary Poppins" as many times as we could, wore out our vinyl albums, knew all the words from all the songs and leaped around our rooms stepping in time.
For my demographic, the stage version of "Mary Poppins" seems a bit surreal. Most of the characters are present, but then there are also statues that come to life in the park. Queen Victoria makes an appearance. Uncle Albert isn’t laughing on the ceiling. And Disney Theatrical has brought back Cruella, this time in Nanny Drag. The songs are not in the same order as the film and new songs have been added.
Nevertheless, when we shake off the nostalgia, the stage musical of "Mary Poppins" is pretty grand and jolly; an awe-inspiring treat worthy of a big brass band.
The surprisingly central star of "Mary Poppins" is the stagecraft. The Banks’ home (to which Mary Poppins comes to nanny young Jane and Michael) is one gigantic doll house that not only rotates but also moves down stage and up stage. The dollhouse swivels to face the audience then unfolds twice to fill the stage and present an illustrated version of an Edwardian townhouse.
Later the house folds, completes another turn and unfolds again into a full size kitchen. For the nursery scenes, the large dollhouse retreats and the stage is filled with the top floor nursery including a sliding into place shingled roof.
The park around the corner from the Banks’ house is filled with a large cast of alternating characters including other nannies, policemen, painters, children and statues. In the rip-roaring "Jolly Holiday" the park explodes into an eye-popping Technicolor backdrop that looks like something a very silly, happy Van Gogh may have painted.
Madeline Trumble as Mary Poppins is, well, practically perfect. Trumble is a lovely singer, a lively dancer and a brave aerialist. Unfortunately, Con O’Shea-Creal as Bert gets lost in this very busy, very populated play. In an ironic twist though, it will be Bert’s two-minute step spectacle in the contagious "Step in Time" production number that you will most remember.
The children roles of Jane and Michael Banks are rotated between two sets of young actors. On opening night Madison Mullahey and Eli Tokash performed the roles. The mikes on the young pair were not properly set; many of their lines were amplified so loud that you could not understand the dialogue.
Based on the enthusiastic response of the opening night’s audience it may take more than a spoonful of sugar to get tickets to visit the Bank’s house on Cherry Lane, so act now before the winds blow and send "Mary Poppins" on her next adventure.
"Mary Poppins" runs through March 30 at The Music Hall at Fair Park, 909 1st Avenue in Dallas. For info or tickets, call 214-691-7200 or visit www.dallassummermusicals.org