Don’t expect lessons at all theatrical events beyond how to do a kick-line or harmonize with the orchestra. However, when the nanny is in town make sure to take a notebook to the show. “Mary Poppins,” the famous nanny, wielding a parrot-head black umbrella and all, has flown into town at the Civic Center of Greater Des Moines and is ready to teach a lesson.
It is the overarching life lessons of sharing, caring and taking the time to dance, that make the classic children’s story applicable to all ages. A little girl in a red velvet holiday dress squealed with excitement as the curtain rose to a blowing wind and a wide smile broke across the face of the neighboring elderly man.
With catchy tunes, colorful costumes and creative sets, “Mary Poppins” conjoins the glamorous glitz of all that is both Broadway and Disney. It’s the next step for the evolution of P.L. Travers’ original 1934 story about a magical nanny that was then made into a 1964 Disney film starring the famous Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. The 2006 Tony Award-winning pro¬duction jumped across the pond to critical acclaim after opening in London in 2004.
Fun fact to tell other audience members: Disney Theatrical Productions has 15 productions around the world including “Tarzan” and “The Lion King.” Hypothetically, every hour around the world there is a show being performed.
Mary Poppins, with her pretentious wide smile and cutting passive sarcasm, is played practically perfect by Caroline Sheen. Joined by Nicolas Dromard as the equally magical Bert, they form a lovely duet to guide adorable, yet annoying, Jane and Michael Banks.
Talon Ackerman, playing Michael Banks, was the scene-stealer with his twinkling soprano voice. Theatergoers may only hope that he nev¬er grows old and hits puberty.
The favorite scenes were clearly ones includ¬ing the entire ensemble. Place approximately 15 spectacular dancers on one stage, stir in a fan¬tastical backdrop and eyes are captivated. Such numbers are the perfect time for one of those many lessons, including how to spell. Not only does the audience learn the phonetics of “super¬califragilisticexpialidocious,” but, by the end of the rousing first-act song, how to do most of the 34-character dance as well.
Adaption from the original film version to stage production naturally wields changes in plot. Shrill, death-dressed, opera-trilling Miss Andrew, played by Ellen Harvey, with her bottles of cod liver oil, serves as the perfect juxtapos¬ing antithesis to the sugar-wielding Miss Pop¬pins, as does the contrast in costuming and set for the dull British banking and park scenes as compared to the magical Poppins chalk-drawn world.
Don’t expect “Poppins” to take any basic steps to dazzle. There are multiple, somewhat unnecessary special effects and animations. Be¬neath all the animated attraction, the best parts of Poppins are found in the supporting details and cast. Sit close enough to the pulsing pit or¬chestra and the melodies of the trumpets will envelope the ears. With a classic score by com¬posers Richard and Robert Sherman and additions by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, the orchestra fits in perfect harmony with the viva¬cious vocals.
Costuming was impeccable and the toe-tap¬ping scenes, such as “Jolly Holiday,” transported an entire audience out of its winter bundles and into an imaginary swirling skirt scene.
One of the best pieces of advice for viewing “Poppins” would be not to blink. Do so, and the scene will transform without warning. Disney has a history of changing entire sets with col¬lapsible creative, and “Mary Poppins” is no different. The Banks’ abode on Cherry Tree Lane pops up like a dollhouse, only to fold down into a rooftop.
Personal fears may get in the way of com¬plete enjoyment. “Playing the Game,” with life-size clowns and monkey sock puppets, could easily be turned into a nightmare. Combine the realist scene with the rough-hewn bird woman in “Feed the Birds” with the parental issues of debt, depression and unemployment, and “Pop¬pins” is a show for adults as much as kids.
The Civic Center outdid itself with promotion for “Mary Poppins” via billboards and gue¬rilla tactics seen around Des Moines. The show itself also has a successful brand to run off of, with a colorful collection of letters spelling “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” which makes it difficult to resist the overpriced souvenirs.
Anyone with a dance background will appreciate the bodily beauty of prancing statue Neelus. Played by Garret Hawe in a marble-gray body suit, the pirouetting character stole the stage in a diversion from the original film version.
Like any good musical, “Mary Poppins” connects with the audience around a shared emotion of optimism. It’s hard to think that any-thing could be beyond resolve with the dancing stars in the cosmic “Anything Can Happen.” It inspires an audience of all ages that dreams really do come true, if you make them. It’s a lesson learned in the comfort of the theater and one that will stick in your head like the entire catchy soundtrack.
“Poppins” is prim, properly rambunctious and a “practically perfect” production to brighten the winter season.
Seize the chance to catch this unforgettable spectacle with a student rush ticket for $25. The show runs through Dec. 12. Click to www.civiccenter.org or call (515) 246-2300 for ordering information.
Photo: Connor McCourtney