Mary Poppins is the quintessential Disney Live-Action film. With its 50th anniversary upon us, Laughing Place is celebrating all facets of the film. A piece of Mary Poppins history is also celebrating an anniversary this year. The musical theater version of the beloved tale will be celebrating 10 years old this coming December, and since it is a beloved part of Disney Theatricals’ and Mary Poppins’ history, it’s time to discuss the journey the film took from stage to screen.
When Thomas Schumacher, the head of the Disney Theatrical Group, began creating a list of Disney films that he thought should be brought to the stage, Mary Poppins was at the top of the list. How could it not be? Amazing music by the Sherman Brothers, a fanciful world, and a story poised for a magical interpretation. Well, Cameron Mackintosh, the world renowned musical theater producer, had the rights. Not the Disney Company. Back in 1993, Mackintosh approached Pamela Travers to bring the show to the stage, where he obtained the right, telling Ms. Travers that he wouldn’t do the show unless he had the ability to use the songs from the film.
In 2001, Schumacher began talks with Mackintosh to collaborate on the musical, allowing Cameron to use the classic Disney tunes and giving Disney the opportunity to utilize the crazy talented producer. Two new song writers were brought on to the production, Anthony Drewe and George Stiles, who created new arrangements of the songs, completely reinventing songs like “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” and writing new tunes for the stage version, like “Practically Perfect.”
They also brought on Jim Steinmeyer to create the magical special effects used constantly throughout the production, directed by Richard Eyre and choreographed by Stephen Mear, with Matthew Bourne taking on a supporting position to both roles.
How the stage version differs from the film, however, is the inclusion of an “evil nanny,” Miss Andrews, who was featured in a later book in the series, becoming the main villain in the musical. While the movie is almost solely based on the first book in the series, the live version almost becomes a medley of the book series.
The stage production originally featured a song called “Temper, Temper,” which had the Banks children’s toys coming alive and staging a revolt against the kids. The London production had the kids executed at the end (in a dream-esque way). That was toned down for Broadway, with the execution being removed. In 2009, once the show began touring, the song was cut from all productions and replaced with a more subtle song called “Playing the Game,” after many complaints over the scare factor the toy number created for children.
In 2004, the London production was nominated for 8 Olivier Awards, winning Best Actress in a Musical for the fantastic Laura Michelle Kelly, and Best Theatre Choreography. In 2006, the show transferred to Broadway in Disney’s New Amsterdam Theater. It was nominated for 7 Tony Awards, only winning for Best Scenic Design.
While it closed last year after 2619 performances and 6 years on Broadway, it will always hold a special place in my heart as it was my first Broadway musical. I traveled to NYC in 2007 for my first time and only for 1 night, so that allowed one show. We chose Mary Poppins, and thank goodness we did. The score is incredible, the choreography (especially when Bert tap dances upside down) was superb, and being in the New Amsterdam made the experience even better. It was the perfect entry into the wonderful world of musical theater. However, no Disney moment in my entire life will beat seeing Mary Poppins fly over the audience for the first time. I have never gotten a bigger case of the goose bumps in my life.
Nothing else can sum up this fantastic show better than this one phrase. It is pure magic.