Mary Poppins -- Theater Review

Benjamin Walker
Jason Kempin/Getty Images

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 13:  Actor Benjamin Walker attends the "Bloody Bloody Jackson" opening night after party at Brasserie 8 1/2 on October 13, 2010 in New York City.

"Mary Poppins" the musical, adapted from the stories and the film, combines the imagination and resources of Disney and Cameron Mackintosh. There are few surprises, lots of laughs, superb production values and a brilliant cast headed by original Broadway stars Ashley Brown as a square-jawed Mary, reminiscent of Joan Sutherland, and Gavin Lee as a Bert in the mold of Dick Van Dyke.

Van Dyke came onstage after the opening performance to pay tribute to the cast and to take the cheers of the audience. He was right when he spoke of Lee's performance, filled with nicely judged elegance and a big heart. His breathtaking re-creation of the Fred Astaire walking-on-the-ceiling routine is one of the evening's high spots.

Brown sings beautifully and has the right Poppins attitude, but is a trifle stiff. The two kids, Bailey Grey and Carter Thomas, exhibit endurance and endearing acting, singing and goofing-off skills. Valery Boyle's larger-than-life portrayal of the gruff cook Mrs. Brill is a miracle, directly descended from Angela Baddeley's Mrs. Bridges in "Upstairs, Downstairs."

Karl Kenzler initially is a little dour as the dad, but lightens up by play's end. Megan Osterhaus as the mom manages to hold the whole thing together, as Moms always must, and does so with enchanting warmth, convincing anxiety and a lovely voice. Ellen Harvey nearly steals the show as a coloratura witch in the Agnes Moorehead mold. And Andrew Keenan-Bolger delivers an edgy take on the eternally abused and downtrodden cook's assistant.

The score, brimming with life, luxuriant orchestrations and unforgettable songs, plus lots of momentarily incongruous accents and harmonies that speak of classical music training, wears a little thin as the 2 1/2-hour vehicle finally grinds to a halt.

The set and costumes match the performers in every way, shape and form. In what is becoming a trend, much use is made of high-tech devices to simulate the magic of such antiquated low-tech devices as falling snow, rain and even larks flying around the Ahmanson (Brown has to swing into the rafters herself). The dancing is energetic and enthusiastic, which always goes a long way in musicals.

Parents with children probably need to know that one of the show's surrealistic set pieces features six classical Greek statues, three of each sex, cavorting in revealing nude costumes. A bonbon perhaps for adults who take children to this wonderful experience.

Venue: Ahmanson Theatre, Los Angeles (Through Feb. 7)
Cast: Ashley Brown, Gavin Lee, Karl Kenzler, Megan Osterhaus, Valerie Boyle, Andrew Keenan-Bolger, Ellen Harvey, Mary Vanarsdel, Mike O'Carroll
Original music-lyrics: Richard M. Sherman, Robert B. Sherman
Book: Julian Fellowes
New songs/additional music-lyrics: George Stiles, Anthony Drewe
Director: Richard Eyre
Music director: James Dodgson
Choreographers: Matthew Bourne, Stephen Mear
Scenic/costume designer: Bob Crowley
Lighting designer: Howard Harrison
Sound designer: Steve Canyon Kennedy