Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Mary Poppins

Broadway in New York:

We'd hoped to see Mama Mia, because Kay has never listened to Abba (she can recite the plot of every original Star Trek episode, but she’s never listened to Abba. Go figure.) but it was Mama Mia's night off.   We couldn't get any cheap tickets for Fela.  I wanted to see A Little Night Music because Bernadette Peters was in it. Mr Tabubil and Kay wanted to see A History of The Theater because Patrick Stewart was in it, and in one of those compromises where nobody quite gets what they want, somehow we ended up with tickets to Mary Poppins. The movie was so much fun, how could we go wrong - right?


It wasn't quite 'Lord of the Rings: The Musical' awful (although the actress who played the titular Mary had actually played Galadrial in THAT hot mess.*) but all things considered, it was pretty damned ghastly.
            Rather than slavishly following the movie, the Broadway stage show had drawn a great deal of its source material from the original books.  In the abstract, this wasn't an entirely bad idea, but they’d have done better to have stuck with the tried and the tested.  The delightful tunes from the movie had been replaced by new numbers that were... well, they certainly weren't memorable, except when it was for all the wrong reasons.  And worse, the few songs they’d hung onto from the last cinematic go-around had been mauled and muted beyond recognition and relevance.  They’d even made up a whole new set of lyrics for Supercalafragalisticexpialadocious that weren’t half as clever as the originals – or even vaguely related to the plot.
            Which was the other problem. There wasn’t a plot. Or rather, there were several. Six or seven, at least.
            The two children, Jane and Michael Banks, had apparently never been told about the on-stage microphones  – they confused acting with hollering and mugging, and needed a good shot of valium. Preferably in the sort of doses you give to horses.
          Not nearly soon enough, Mary Poppins arrived via Umbrella post, looking smug and showing off a lovely singing voice, and in short order she whisked the revolting children off for a walk in the park.  There, instead of jumping into chalk drawings and riding painted horses, she hewed to the books and brought the park statues to life to play with the little brats.
            Or rather, a very naked man in a very tight silver body suit leaped, spraddle-legged, off a pedestal and performed VERY disturbing balletic choreography all over the stage. If only he'd been wearing just a body suit – things might have been manageable. But some genius in costuming had placed a very very large and very wobbly silver fig leaf right over his gentleman's region. He was so very naked and the fig leaf was so very large - and he made such very wide jumps....
           At some considerable length he was joined by a trio of young bronze ladies with three fig leafs in strategic lady places, and while Bert the chimney sweep warbled in presentable American cockney about how "it's a jolly holiday with Mary" two satyrs in silver paint and sheepskins tore onstage bellowing "Baaaa!!!" and pushed the two children around the stage in gigantic baby's carriages.
            In the middle of the maelstrom, Mary tap-danced and simpered.  Next to me, Vee sat straight-backed and rigid, her lips pursed as she stared expressionlessly at the stage.  I snuck a look down the row at Mr Tabubil - his shoulders were bowed, and his head was in his hands.  His shoulders were shaking.

At intermission, Mr Tabubil gave it to me straight from the shoulder.
 "This show is psychotic."
            Kay nodded.  And nodded some more. "Can we leave now?  Please?”
            I looked sideways at Vee. Vee pressed her lips together.  "I can't say" she said "what I just texted my sister.  It's accurate, but it's not very nice.  I'm sorry."
            "Tell us."
            "Fine.  This show sucks donkey balls, okay?  Big hairy ones."
And suddenly we were laughing. So we stayed around for the second half after all. It was an improvement on the first half, which is a highly relative statement, but we were suffering together this time and all the horrible singing and dancing and plot derailments and non-existent character relationships became an absolute hoot.
            The show was a character study of a father who'd lost his ideals – and all hope. It was the post-feminist anguish of a career woman who'd married and given up her identity to tend an obsessive-compulsive tyrant.  The vertigo of a marriage in free-fall. Two children traumatized by, and worse- sung at, by giant dolls (that musical number had all four of us hiding under the seats and we were sitting half-way back to the balcony.  God know what it was like on stage with the awful things) because they didn't treat their toys with suitable respect and consideration.  (A commentary on the ongoing train-wreck in the grown up bedroom downstairs?)
            And - worst of all, the obsessive need for everyone to sing about everything in tones of syrup and sunbeams.  During one low point, when two sub-plots collided head on (think of two submarines off of the Jervis banks) I thought Vee was going to pop an aneurysm.  But she cheered up right quick when Mr Banks began his great second-act solo number - he stared into a teacup and sang three verses that began with "Before the mortar of your zeal has a chance to congeal- !"
            I don't remember the rest. Vee was laughing to hard for me to hear a word of it.

And then, at long last, the show ended.

And ended again.

Then it ended.

And then it ended again.

And then the lights came on and the cast took their bows and we tried to sneak out in the confusion of applause (the majority of the audience were apparently, astonishingly, enthusiastic about this atrocious twaddle) but the orchestra powered up one more time and the whole cast went three more rounds of Supercalafragalisticixpialadocious (with the most extraordinary hand gestures) before we could get away.
            We still don't quite believe that it happened. Or that most of the audience could have actually liked the ghastly stuff.
            Based on a sample size of exactly one, Vee’s right. Broadway has gone to pot.

* For the record, Mr Tabubil and I only went to see LOTR: The Musical when it was clear it was terminal and the tickets were being thrown at the audience in a desperate last stand. We stuck it out – all three acts, but we had friends who walked out - before the first act ended. They felt it necessary to make the point.

1 comment:

  1. I just saw this today, and my feelings and criticisms were identical to yours. I stumbled upon your blog because, just for hoots, I googled "Mary Poppins stage show sucks." Spent $400 taking the whole family and my mom to see it for Mother's Day. Oy.