Chimney Sweep

Overview: Mary Poppins and Across the World in 80 Days


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Lerche (lärk), noun.
(1) A frolic
(2) A happy adventure
(3) Mary Poppins in the Theater under the Stars
(4) Around the world in 80 days in the Alley Theater

Mary Poppins
With a white-hot Julie Andrews in her first film role (she won an Oscar for her “practically perfect” nanny), Mary Poppins (1964) was Disney’s most profitable film by then, an international hit when it premiered. with Dick Van Dyke as the indomitable chimney sweep Bert and a veritable carpet bag full of live action that is seamlessly incorporated into sparkling animations – these step penguins and runaway carousel horses are highlights of the cinema magic.

Adapted from Julian Fellowes (long before his ultimate success, Downton Abbey), the Mary Poppins stage debuted in London (2004) after the huge hits of Beauty and the Beast (1994) and The Lion King (1997) took the mega-corporation away had convinced profitable stage shows could be made from his beloved film catalog. The producers wisely hired the unconventional British choreographer Matthew Bourne to co-direct with Richard Eyre. Bourne had previously created the sensation of contemporary ballet Swan Lake (1995) with its male swan corps and a same-sex love story. His bohemian productions Cinderella and The Car Man cemented the deal when Disney realized that anything other than a literal translation of the film would work better on Broadway. Plus, you can’t recreate animated dancing penguins, so Bourne’s fertile imagination was badly needed. He worked his magic like throwing fairy dust.

While not particularly loyal to the movie, the show turns into an extremely nifty Broadway musical. The amazing illusion of the film was brought to earth with a lot of dancing and singing, which is the best special effect of live theater anyway. As with many Disney screen-to-stage adaptations, new songs have been added and you will have a hard time telling the difference between the catchy original songs by the Sherman Brothers and those penned by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. The fit is flawless and the fast-paced Anything Can Happen is as good as anything from the movie.

Watch out movie climbers: Uncle Albert’s salmon sack is gone; the motif of the absent father is punched out; Mother is no longer a suffragette; and the big pyrotechnic show on the roof during the chimney sweep’s “Step in Time” is replaced by more banal step fireworks, but the whole thing works. Mary (the lovely Christina DeCicco) remains determined and always right; Bert (Danny Gardner) is still fun and carefree; and the little guys (Kelly Lomonte and Sean Graul) are naturals at playing little guys – a big hand for the Humphreys School of Musical Theater at TUTS, where they got the best stage lessons. Courtney Markowitz is a sympathetic Mrs. Banks with a radiant soprano; while Jane Blass stops the show as the bad nanny Miss Andrews, a character who does not appear in the film.

This new production, a multiple co-production with five other regional theaters, is close enough to the original version but compact enough to fit in different houses. The only thing missing from the original stage show – and it’s a huge loss – is Bert’s impressive tap dance around the proscenium during “Step in Time”. This panting effect rivaled the stunning effects in the film. It was daring and completely surprising, a true Bourne moment that was only suitable for the stage. This version drops it, probably because of the complicated rigging and hours of rehearsal time, but it’s sadly missed. Director Linda Goodrich fills the void admirably, as does the talented, never-ending dance corps.

When you have young people ready to experience the wonder and magic of live theater, there is no better first time show than this Disney beauty …

In 80 days around the world
… except maybe Jules Verne at his best.

This ancient romp with just five actors takes the Verne classic and lovingly kicks his ass. Anyone who has ever seen Patrick Barlow’s madmen The 39 Steps, in which Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1935 thriller is lovingly impaled by four actors, knows what to expect from Mark Brown’s inventive and witty treatment. The Alley did a great job of Steps in 2010 and we are still giggling.

The Verne story is here, true to the fantastic novel, but with a big, wet kiss from Variety, English Panto, Monte Python and the Marx Brothers. Since it’s drooling all over you, you beg for more.

Phileas Fogg’s cuddly shirt (wonderfully stuffed by Todd Waite) makes it clear to his sublime men’s club that it is actually possible to circumnavigate the world in 80 days. Before you can say there’s a good show going on, he’s out and about with his new valet Passepartout (the resourceful goofy Evan Zes). Your transportation consists of steamer, elephant, train, and ice sledges as you encounter an odd variety of people in England, Egypt, India, Singapore, Hong Kong, Yokohama, San Francisco, and New York. Jeffrey Bean, Jay Sullivan and Emily Trask complete the cast. Others are not necessary, because all five are completely exaggerated, whether as a Brahmin priest, Calcutta mahout, xenophobic American, London newsboy, opium den owner, train conductor, etc., etc. Low shtick and high jinks devours.

Constantly breaking through the fourth wall, the actors – all quick-change artists – talk to us, throw out non-sequiturs and shamelessly commit what makes everything even more beautiful. In a stage world framed by Victorian barges like Brighton’s Royal Pavilion and a giant map painted on the circular floor, the world of Fogg is small and minimal. But that’s all we need. The elephant is an arrangement of a table, stool, two chairs and a tassel for the trunk. A train is conjured up by four chairs standing one behind the other, while the actors jostle up and down in the moving train. A boat is quickly called up by ship’s wheel and lifebuoy; the actors sway back and forth in the swell.

Two musicians in bartender mufti and bowler hats (Brittany Halen and Bradley Dean Whyte) add immensely to the festive mood. The elephant’s trumpet sounds on a vuvuzela, as does boat horns. Pistol shots are carried out with old slapsticks. When the train stops, Halen injects a can of compressed air to double for the hissing brakes. The calm sea is enchantingly created when Whyte lightly strokes the top of a drum.

Everything is terribly clever, and the show moves in an exciting clip. Supported by Alejo Vietti’s archetypal cartoon costumes, Hugh Landwehr’s tasty nibbles from the set, John Ambrosone’s illuminations, Pierre Dupree’s sound design and, above all, the careful dialogue coaching by Pamela Prather, director Mark Shanahan Verne exudes charm, ingenuity and plenty of eccentricity.

Traveling the world with these professionals is a great, silly adventure. There is no redeeming social message, no painful plea for tolerance, no dysfunctional family that pulls us through the undergrowth – no, just pure joy in a job well done. Pack your bags and smile. This is an ideal trip for children of all ages.

Mary Poppins lasts through March 20 at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts. 800 bagby. For more information, call 713-558-8887 or visit $ 37.75 to $ 119.50.

Around the world in 80 days until April 3rd. Alley Theater, 615 Texas. For more information, call 713-220-5700 or visit $ 25- $ 67.

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DL Groover has contributed to countless prestigious publications since 2003, including the Houston Press. His theater criticism has earned him a national award from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia (AAN) and three national Lone Star Press Awards. He is co-author of the disrespectful tribute to Skeletons from the Opera Closet (St. Martin’s Press), which is now in its fourth edition.

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