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The most magical thing about "Mary Poppins"–the Disney musical that is in the midst of the Indy stop on its national tour–isn't the "Jolly Holiday" stroll through the park or the iconic slide up the banister. It isn't the flight of the famed nanny and it isn't the way Bert dances up the side of the stage and across the top.
The most magical thing is the fact that the producers of this mega-musical have allowed its actors to actually act.
That's not saying the "Mary Poppins" is "A Streetcar Named Desire." The roles here don't demand heavy lifting. But there's an unfortunate tendency in some tours to expect their casts to slavishly recreate their predecessors in the roles. (If you saw last season's "A Chorus Line," you witnessed an extreme case of that problem.) I, for one, would much rather see actors rather than reenactors.
And so Mr. and Mrs. Banks come to life. So does Poppins–who the creators wisely allow to remain cryptic.
And while Bert can't quite fill the shoes of Dick Van Dyke–who could?–he's his own man. Best of all, the two Banks children are outstanding, tireless, and charming in near-constantly-onstage parts.
Does that make "Mary Poppins" a great musical? Not really. There's a tendency to replace some of the movie's joy-for-joy's-sake fun with messages and morals. The toys-coming-to-life sequence falls completely flat and "Step in Time" doesn't quite explode the way it should. Still, it triumphs over such recent Broadway in Indianapolis efforts to reach the same market, including "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" and "101 Dalmatians."
It's easy to credit the sets and the songs and the source material. I'm crediting the cast.