Mary Poppins at Paper Mill Playhouse is, to use the lyrics from one of the show’s songs, practically perfect in every way.
My 9-year-old daughter and I had the pleasure of seeing the musical at the official press opening last night and we loved it. We weren’t alone; the entire audience was caught up in the magic — clapping and singing along, cheering, and jumping to their feet for a standing ovation at the finale.
Walt Disney’s film Mary Poppins is a treasured childhood staple for many families. Julie Andrews, as she is in everything she does, is mesmerizing as the nanny who flies in with the wind to help the disjointed Banks family. And Dick Van Dyke, as Bert, is cheeky and supremely lovable. Hard shoes to fill! But Elena Shaddow as Mary and Mark Evans as Bert do an excellent job in this musical version, directed by Paper Mill’s Producing Artistic Director Mark S. Hoebee, with choreography by Denis Jones and music direction by Meg Zervoulis.
Shaddow brilliantly captures Mary’s combination of snark and sweetness and her voice is as sweet as as spoonful of sugar. Evans is wonderful as Bert, just as lovable as the original character, but a little less silly. Evans, who is from Wales, does a much more realistic cockney accent than Van Dyke’s “Ello Gov’ner.” The rest of the cast is also strong, Abbie Grace Levi as Jane and John Michael Pitera as Michael were adorable. The musical numbers shine — the beloved originals and new numbers coming to life with and outstanding choreography. “Step in Time,” was a toe-tapping extravaganza!
While I said the production is “practically perfect,” I do have two criticisms. The musical version reinvents Mrs. Banks as a lonely former actress, rather than the strong suffragette fighting for women’s rights in the original film version. The beauty of Mary Poppins are the strong female characters, even little Jane Banks has a mind of her own, so this change is disappointing.
The other is the production number called “Temper, Temper.” It’s a terrifying scene where the childrens’ toys come to life to scold them for mistreating them. When the creepy, glowing, clown heads popped up, my daughter covered her eyes in fear. The song is dark, creepy, and doesn’t fit in the magical, enchanting Mary Poppins we know and love.
Thankfully, despite those issues, Mary Poppins at Paper Mill Playhouse is a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious musical with a message of family and the important things in life that the whole family will enjoy.
Paper Mill Playhouse
22 Brookside Drive
Millburn, NJ 07041
Parking available at the theater ($9)
Where to Eat
There are many choices both near (right in the same building) and a short drive away to make your family theater night even more special. Here are a few choices:
- Carriage House Bistro & Bar: located right at Paper Mill Playhouse, Carriage House offers seasonal American cuisine and pre-theater price fixed menus for lunch, dinner and kids. Choose Carriage House for a very special night.
- Basilico: Very good Italian food with a nice kids’ menu offering much more than your standard chicken fingers.
- Charlie Brown’s: A good chain restaurant offering an affordable, kid-friendly meal.