The Smith Center – Mary Poppins (Broadway Series)

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I was able to take E to her first full stage performance on Saturday for The Smith Center’s showing of Mary Poppins.  It is adapted from the Disney movie (amazon affiliate link) but I was not prepared for how different it was.  I asked in advance whether she could come with me despite the general “no kids under 5” rule and was happy when I received this confirmation, love the responsiveness of The Smith Center’s social media approach:

We went a little early because I knew from our last visit that parking was going to be far from the building itself and then at the last minute decided to use their valet service.  It was $8 up front so a bit of a splurge and it left me confused about whether I needed to also tip at the end.  We ended up having plenty of time because 8 minutes into the performance the set on stage had a malfunction and the curtain (pictured above) went down for over an hour while they fixed the problem.  After the first 20 minutes they announced it would be another 20 minutes and then we heard no updates until about an hour and four minutes later when they gave a one minute warning.  The intermission was cut from 15 minutes to 5 minutes as a result and the overlap between the matinee crowd leaving and the evening crowd arriving made for a pretty crowded time after the show.  I also didn’t know that the valet pickup was not the same area as the drop off so we were late to getting in line for our car.  E was incredibly patient and well behaved, I am retroactively nervous about skipping her nap to go on what turned out to be a 5 hour adventure.  We’d brought food allergy friendly snacks and took advantage of free cups of ice at the concession areas as well as walking around and exploring a little bit to stay busy during the unforseen break.  E kept asking “where is Mary Poppins?” — I wanted to know as well!

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Here you can see the merchandise area, I snapped this when we were killing some time.  A few rows in front of us a friend of mine has season tickets as well so I got to catch up with her and I ran into other people I knew and had nice chats with them as well.  I wanted to see if there was anything appealing for sale but per usual things were expensive and heavily branded.  E never asked for anything, she just liked looking at all the little trinkets and munching our ice cubes.  We also got to see a lady with a very cool Mary Poppins tattoo on her arm as well as little girls in their finest dresses.  I knew the theater would be cold so I had E dress in pants and bring her sweater.  She kept saying how nice and cozy she felt so I am glad I made that decision.  A friend advised me to ask for a booster cushion and we did it as soon as the doors opened for seating.  There were maybe 10 on the side we entered so I know they ran out of cushions considering how many children were in attendance.  I took E’s shoes off and let her sit cross legged on her seat but a few times I took her onto my lap for a snuggle.  We also got to peek into the orchestra pit during the extended wait, it fascinated her to see the instruments.  Did I mention how well she did?  I was so proud.  We’ve seen two one hour shows at UNLV, Charlotte’s Web and The Elves and the Shoemaker, in the last year and I knew she understood how to be in an audience.

About the performance – I was watching it as a mom watching her child being immersed in the spectacle so that influenced my perception.  For those that haven’t seen the film, a fantastical series of events occurs when a magical nanny comes to stay with two adventurous children.  The musical draws from the film and the books which I have not read.  Wikipedia has an entry about the differences between the musical and the movie that is pretty good, you can read it here.  The singing, acting, and dancing were all wonderful but on a personal level I was surprised that they nixed songs entirely, moved some, changed others, and introduced new songs.  We’d talked about the story of the movie before we got to the show to try and head off questions E might have and then the story bore very little resemblance to the classic film.  At one point Mary Poppins leaves the children and takes their toys with her and a new nanny, that E called “the mean nanny,” comes to force the children to take a tonic of cod liver oil, treacle, carbolic soap, and brimstone.  The new nanny, though bearing a powerful voice, has a discordant refrain that just does not let up.  After the show all E wanted to talk about was why the mean nanny made the kids drink what she did and why she was put into a giant cage (yes, this happened).  The nanny also had a lark in a cage that Mary Poppins sets free, I can see as an adult the parallel being drawn between this treatment of a bird and the bird woman feeding birds in the square but had to explain it to E.  I was hoping something else would grab her attention but they did really push the dark storyline of a dysfunctional family so that has mostly been the topic of our discussions since the performance.

Before going to the play we’d talked about our favorite parts of the movie and one of them was when Mary Poppins has the children clean their room.  Imagine my surprise when they reach the nursery only to announce it is neat and tidy.  No singing “A Spoonful of Sugar” while tidying, though later on they do bring the song in while cleaning the kitchen (pretty cool effects for this part, actually).  I know I am being a little bit picky because I know the movie so well but I should have done more homework in advance of the play to help prepare E.  It is hard to follow a show when you are little and don’t know why people are doing what they are doing!  There is no run on the bank, instead Mr. Banks makes a lending decision that initially seems to have lost the bank money and is suspended (this is the point at which Mary Poppins leaves the children without notice).  The hour delay also confused E as well but as I mentioned before, she bore it like a champ.

I think the actress for Mary Poppins, Rachel Wallace, made the part her own and had a lovely voice.  Stephen Roberts played Bert and I loved seeing someone in the role with a perfect voice and accent (no offense to Dick Van Dyke in the movie, I still enjoy his portrayal as well).  I was amazed at the talent of the young performers that played the children, Jane and Michael Banks, as well.  This was the first Disney musical I have seen and I wonder if the others similarly are more “inspired by” their source film as opposed to just showcasing them.  It is a tall order – how much do you change and how much do you keep the same?  I overheard some upset patrons during intermission and I don’t want to be the sort that isn’t open to new experiences and interpretations especially since I should have done my homework and not made assumptions.   I am sharing my thoughts because of the unique circumstance of a parent that grew up with the movie and a daughter a little younger than most theater goers (she’ll be four in August).

I missed “Sister Suffragette,” “Stay Awake,” and “I Love to Laugh” – none were featured songs.  “Feed the Birds” was not a lullaby but a duet between Mary Poppins and the bird woman that gave me chills, it is my daily lullaby to R so I missed him a little bit in that moment even though he was having fun at home with Daddy.  I have the movie to watch for the songs I missed but I loved the actress for Winifred Banks and it would have been a treat to hear her sing “Sister Sufragette.”  The Review-Journal article about the show is an interesting read that helped clarify some of the choices made with the songs and story.

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I want to also add that through the delays and hiccups the Smith Center employees were wonderful and ever smiling.  They gave information, handed out programs during the wait, and did not let what was happening faze them.  I can’t say enough about how great they were.  I am also a fan of how I had no issues carrying in food allergy friendly snacks for E even though I did spy a lot of peanut M&Ms and the like at the concession stand.  No one ate any around us so that was a relief.  We’re looking forward to our next show, The Million Dollar Quartet!  In the fall they’re including Beauty and the Beast in their lineup so I will be sure to prepare for any differences between the show and the movie before E and I go.  I am glad we went and loved having an outing with my girl.  Even when she was pushed to her limits (no nap and snacks are not  the same as dinner considering didn’t get out until 6pm from a 2pm matinee) I heard nothing but compliments about how she behaved.  I really believe it is crucial to share art and theater with children from the get-go as it was something my mother did with me.

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