Every summer a large, Broadway style musical comes to Montreal – read about my Wicked obsession from a couple of years ago. Generally it’s in English and plays at the huge Salle Wilfred Pelletier. This year, as the flagstone show of the Juste Pour Rire festival a Quebecois it was decided to stage a French language version of hit show Mary Poppins. It was considered quite a risk, given the size of the production, but judging from the bottoms on seats and reviews it one which has paid off in spades.
Yesterday I took myself off to see it at the Theatre St Denis and had a wonderful afternoon. In terms of production values, the show was superb. The sets are gorgeous, the cast is talented and well prepared, the magic tricks/stunts like when Mary Poppins enters or exits by flying high above the audience or the Banks disaster of a kitchen suddenly fixes itself are breathtaking. Add to that the incredible Sherman Brothers’ songs and astounding choreography and you have a wonderful spectacle. It produced one of the few mid show standing ovations I’ve experienced in North America. The cause of that was the showstopping dance number Step in Time – sorry, Juste a Temps as it is here – and was well deserved.
The theatre was as full as I’ve ever seen it and for every child in attendance there were at least three or four adults. It certainly shows the place Mary Poppins still holds in people’s hearts. Even now Feed the Birds – excuse me, Pour Nourrir les P’tits Oiseaux – brings a lump to my throat. It is certainly very different seeing Mary Poppins as a child and seeing it again as an adult. As a child, you are drawn into the wonder of Mary Poppins’ magic. As an adult, it’s easier to see things from the adult Banks’ perspective, especially with the way the roles have been expanded for the stage musical rather than the Julie Andrews film.
Instead of a suffragette, Winifred Banks is a young former actress who has married into the upper middle class and struggles to adapt to her new role as wife and mother as well as to understand her husband, coming as he does from a different social background. She has a beautiful character arc (and some touching new songs) which is really touching. Mr Banks’ role, too, is developed from the film with the revelation of his unhappy childhood under the tutelage of the show’s antagonist Miss Andrews, missing from the movie. These are aspects that adults can pick up and appreciate while still leaving kids to enjoy the spectacle.
Mary Poppins, whether in London, Broadway or Montreal is a fantastic show and well worth going to. Enjoy