Saturday, November 14, 2009

Theatre Review: "Mary Poppins"

How do you take a story, so ingrained in generations of minds, and put it up on the stage while maintaining the essence of what continues to make the film so beloved? So beloved that 45 years after it's release, it can still captivate and delight?

How do you return to 75 year old source material and revive some the darker elements and decidedly British feel that the author felt was missing in the beloved film (until her death, author P.L. Travers was not a fan of what Walt Disney had done and even at the Premiere told him that the animated sequences would of course have to be removed).

Will it work? Is it dated? Is there a timely message still to be found?

The answer is YESSS!!!!! (and a little 'no').

Walt Disney (sorry, I'm not dropping the 'Walt' even if the company has) and ├╝ber-successful theatrical producer Cameron Ma
ckintosh (think "Cats", "Phantom" and "Les Miz") have taken on this monumental task and have succeeded, with some personal reservations.

I'm a Poppins Puppy. I have grown up with Walt Disney's "Mary Poppins" (1964). I wanted Julie Andrews as the titular nanny to be my Mom (sorry, real Mom). And who wouldn't. She can snap her fingers and your toys are put away. Along with her handsome ragamuffin street friend (the tall and kid-friendly Dick Van Dyke) you can enter new worlds by jumping into street paintings; laughing with a jocular Uncle Albert on the ceiling (sorry Uncle Chuck, we never dined topside) is just an afternoon tea. Life is tuneful with Mary. I even still have a handful of original 45s that make up the soundtrack, tucked safely away in a box.

When I was in 4th Grade, Cindy Hallowell and I would 'perform' songs from "Mary Poppins" on the way to and at our bus stop (she as Mary and I as Bert, dancing along the top a small fence substituting for a rooftop). We tried to convince our Music Teacher, Miss Silverman, that we should put on a staged production of the movie. She say we couldn't until we were in 6th Grade, but also thought it would be very hard to turn that movie into a staged production (which was also something that was not being done with as much regularity as today... I talking to you, successful and equally fabulous "Legally Blonde", but also you, drab and dreary and why bother "Dirty Dancing).

Regardless, Cindy and I kept talking about this and practicing. Two years later when we finally hit 6th Grade, Miss Silverman was gone, and so was our dream of a staged Poppins. I'm glad to say a few decades later I've been proved right - that it can and has been done, and done right... mostly.

Charming, yes. Production Design, phenomenal. Casting/Acting/Dancing, very good (shout outs to Ashley Brown as "Mary" and Gavin Lee as "Bert" and Carter Thomas as "Jordan"... err, I mean "Michael Banks" - Jordan is my nephew and these two are like twins!). Timeless songs by the tune-rrific Sherman Bros., happily mostly there. Animated Sequences, unfortunately not.

Gone is Mrs. Banks "Sister Suffragette"-ing, but that's probably good as it is an overly dated theme that doesn't really serve a purpose to the plot.

Gone is Uncle Albert, the robust gentleman who "Love(d) to Laugh" (long and loud and clear) as his guffaws sent him and his tea-totaling guests ceiling-ward. But he was really only an episodic side-trip that also didn't add anything to the plot.

The additions: Miss Andrew as Mr. Bank's childhood Nanny (and a deliciously wickedly evil personage); dancing Park Statuary (yay Brian Letendre); and an overall darker tone; have all made this Production worth seeing.

The new songs try very hard to fit in with the familiar score and for the most part do their job. I was a little disappointed that "Step In Time" wasn't more fabulously choreographed, especially with Matthew Bourne on board, but it was very good. "Stay Awake" is missing (really George Stiles and Anthony Drewe - you couldn't slip it into the underscore?). But "Feed the Birds" still made me tear up - the lyrics of the bridge get me every time:

"All around the cathedral the saints and apostles
Look down as she sells her wares
Although you can't see it,
You know they are smiling
Each time someone shows that he cares."

Most sorely gone are my favorite Penguins though. And while some bits of animated effects where used (stars and flying silhouettes) and Bert did manage to draw in mid-air on a screen that was behind him, my little avian friends were missed.

I totally would have staged the number using animation rear projected onto a series moving screens that danced around with Bert (the wonderful Gavin Lee). Of course, the inclusion of the Penguins would not have fit the tone of the show and probably would have cost an unnecessary flipper and a foot. OK, so they made the right decision.

Bottom-line is, even if you only 'like' Mary Poppins a little, go see it. Bring the kids (they will love it). And while it will never replace those 139 minutes of Oscar-winning memories, it does stand proudly on its own as an evening (or afternoon) of fun entertainment for the entire family.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Thoughts on Faith, Part 4 - Why So Improbable?

Countless millions of your fellow humans have some sort of belief in a fantastical tale. Their tale usually includes some form of Father Figure who dwells skyward and upon his last visit, left you with either a promise of a return, or a promise of being reunited with him at some future time in some future place. This is your Belief Tale.

Yet anyone who believes in the similar and not identical version of your Belief Tale is wrong in your eyes. Why is that? Is their belief in their father any more far fetched than your belief in your father? Yet you persecute and you hate. You wage war and commit all sorts of violations against your own code of ethics or your own commandments. And such violations in the name of your Father is excused or ignored or simply rationalized away.

You isolate yourself in your beliefs and scoff at the others whose belief - while similar - are not the same as your own. How can you justify that?

Over my past three blogs, I cited lyrics from Dave Clark's "Time: The Musical" from 1986. This failed slice Theatrical 80's BritPop/Rock barely reached these shores, but the words, strike more profoundly in me than the various Belief Tales that billions believe in.

The 'Isms' that divide this spinning rock of ours, continue to hold us back as a species. Continue to separate us from each other. Continue to cause us to waste resources, funds, generations of lives - and yes, time - over small variations in a similar tale. And a fervent assumption that since your Belief Tale is correct, then an other's Belief Tale must be wrong. And a misguided assumption that anyone who does not share your Belief Tale must either conform, be shunned, or die.

How do you live with this?

You hide your head in the sands of your Belief Tale, you chalk it up to The Word or the Will of your Father Figure. You couldn't even tolerate others belief in multiple Father (and Mother) Figures. You forced them to believe in only one. The One. Your One. Yet of course, which "The One" they chose even became a point of contention.

It's almost as if you strive to Hate. You look for reasons to Shun. You create worlds of Wrong that others dwell in. You must be Right and only those who agree with you are right as well.

Should you chose to re-read Thoughts on the Origin of Faith, Parts 1-3, think about my thoughts from this Part 4. Please try to draw some parallels and step back from your Belief Tale to view the other Belief Tales. See their similarities. Look closer at those other believers.

Are they really any less than you?

Think about the possibility of the Believe Tale in my
Thoughts on the Origin of Faith, Part 1. It is merely yet another variation on a theme; neither wrong nor right.

And just as probable as the rest.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Thoughts on Faith, Part 3 - Beauty, Truth, Love, Freedom, Peace

Beauty ...
Truth ...
Love ...
Freedom ...
Peace ...

These are your ideals.
There is not one person
on the entire Planet Earth
who, in his right mind,
doesn't want these in his life.

So ... where do you go wrong?

To find the solution,

we must first
identify the problem.

Perhaps you wonder
how much "free will"
you actually have
when you see yourself,
for example,
saying and doing
hurtful things
that you don't
really mean.

Why can't you seem to stop?

You want to,
you try to,
your intentions are

Is it habit
or is it lack of understanding
that keeps you bound
to the pull of destruction?

The mineral sources
of energy upon your planet
are almost depleted
and yet
the two greatest sources of energy
remain almost untapped --
the sea and the sun.

you seem content
to allow the aggression
of the weak
by the strong.

You seem content
to allow
a great part
of your world
to starve
whilst for economics' sake
food is left
to rot
or be destroyed.

You seem content
to allow
the obscenity
of the maimed and crippled
who have to cope
with broken lives
after each confrontation
of force.

Your East and West
have never even
made the effort
to conquer the basics
necessary for people
of different cultures
to exist in harmony;
that is, to respect
your opposite's culture --
and what is more
important --
their way of thinking.

Even in your own life
your thinking
is not in order.

These facts
do not inspire
do they?

by Dave Clark, Jessica St. John and Hans Poulsen for Dave Clark's "Time: The Musical" (1986)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Thoughts on Faith, Part 2 - The Order of the Universe is the Order of Your Mind

Throughout the Universe

there is order.

In the movement of the planets ...
in nature ...
and in the functioning
of the human mind.

A mind
that is in
its natural state of order
is in harmony
with the Universe,
and such a mind
is timeless.

Your life
is an expression
of your mind.
You are
a creator of your own
for as a human being
you are "free to will"
whatever state of being
you desire
through the use
of your thoughts
and words.

There is great Power there.

It can be a blessing
or a curse.

It's entirely
up to you,
for the quality
of your life
is brought about
by the quality
of your thinking.

Think about that.

Thoughts produce actions.

See the pettiness
and the envy
and the greed
and the fear
and all the other attitudes
that cause you pain
and discomfort.

that the one thing
you have
absolute control over
is your attitude.
See the effect
that it has on those
around you,
for each life
is linked to all Life
and your words
carry with them
chain reactions
like a stone
that has been thrown
into a pond.

If your thinking
is in order,
your words will flow
directly from the heart,
creating ripples of love.
If you truly want
to change your world, my friends,
you must change
your thinking.

is your greatest tool.
It creates an atmosphere
of understanding
which leads to caring
which is Love.
Choose your words
with care.

Go forth ...
with Love.

by Dave Clark, Jessica St. John and John Christie for Dave Clark's "Time: The Musical" (1986)

Monday, November 2, 2009

Thoughts on Faith, Part 1 - We're the UFO

When you were
just an Ape,
We gave you
your first break.
Taught you
how to think
Yes, we're
the missing link.

We took you
from the trees.
Taught you
how to plan.
Gave you
and medicine.
Then you
were known
as Man.

From the Valley of the Kings
To Atlantis, long gone.
A thousand different cultures
have sung the Sky Gods song.

We arrived
in chutes of flames.
You made us
into Gods.
Raised temples
to our worship.
Gave us a thousand names.

Hey didn't you know,
We're the UFO.

From Stonehenge to the Pyramids
We really laid it down.
Made visits in the past.
To help the Earth go 'round.

Now we vanish from the mind.
The words we taught have gone.
In legend we do exist.
As in the passing of the mist.

Hey didn't you know,
We're the UFO.

by Dave Clark, David Soames and Jeff Daniels for Dave Clark's "Time: The Musical" (1986)