Mary Poppins, the Broadway musical that's been hyped higher than the nanny can fly, lives up to its reputation.
And then some.
As descended from the classic 1964 Disney film and P.L. Travers' stories, Mary Poppins flies (literally) into the Banks family's Cherry Tree Lane house to care for enfants terribles Michael and Jane, who have worn out six nannies in four months.
The new Pittsburgh CLO staging of producer Cameron Mackintosh's 2004 adaptation includes the familiar Richard and Robert Sherman score. This production soars with the high-octane "Step in Time" and "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious." (There are additions and substractions, the best new song being "Anything Can Happen.") Statues come to life; Bert tap-dances across one rooftop and leaps to another; Mary has aerial arrivals and departures, though she doesn't soar across the stage and out over the audience, as she did during her last visit here.
Mackintosh has made this a darker Mary Poppins. Julian Fellowes' book is surprisingly honest about family woes, child neglect and financial fears. Such darker moments may frighten kids — they certainly scared the sugar out of my inner child.
The show introduces Miss Andrew, Mr. Banks' former nanny. Lean and lanky, she's the mutated offspring of Cora Witherspoon and Cruella de Vil, a truly troubling presence who symbolizes children's fears and causes nightmares fueled by castor oil and brimstone and treacle.
But if darkness is simply the absence of light, Mary Poppins, woman and wonder, sheds more than enough light on the meaning of life to make this near-three hour voyage worthwhile.
The cast, directed and choreographed by Linda Goodrich, is a powerhouse. As Mary and Bert, Lindsey Bliven and David Elder have a warm and fuzzy chemistry; she may seem brusque and no-nonsense, but deep inside that practically perfect heart is a woman smoldering with love.
Susan Cella deserves a nod as blustery housekeeper Mrs. Brill and, in the show's most heartbreaking scene, she doubles as the Bird Woman. (Her "Feed the Birds" brought me to tears.) Mason Alexander Park steals every scene she clutches as the shrill and harrowing Miss Andrew.
Mary and company promise us that anything can happen ... and in this luscious, overstuffed production, it does.