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Mary Poppins 

It's hard not to take something like Mary Poppins personally. I mean, what are the chances that one show could contain every single thing I hate about theater?

You go into something like this stage-musical version of the kiddie film on the assumption that it's going to be ... well, not Mourning Becomes Electra, but pleasant and simple and -- who knows? -- even charming.

But then you see the national tour of the Broadway version squatting on the big ol' Benedum stage (hosted by PNC Broadway Across America). And for two hours and 40 minutes you can't locate one moment of actual humanity. Directed by Richard Eyre, and co-directed and choreographed by Matthew Bourne (both of whom should know better), this cast doesn't stand, they pose; actors don't walk, they prance; and every emotion is played with quote marks. Book-writer Julian Fellowes must have combed his old jackets for the lint needed to create this script.

It drones on and on, with Eyre and company throwing just about every bit of available technology on stage to create a parade of special magical "Poppins" effects.

I don't go to the theater for special effects, amusement-park aesthetics or soulless, creatively empty entertainments. And I especially don't go to revisit childhood fluff repackaged as culturally significant work at extravagant prices.

But everyone keeps at it with a grim determination, as if to say: "We know it's idiotic, you know it's idiotic, but Disney's exhuming all its old properties like a pimp forcing old whores to turn one last trick. So just sit back and shut up and -- hey! Look what we can do with actors, wires and a harness."

If the first act is preposterous, it's the second when the show goes psychotic. Suddenly, plot conflict tries to muscle in on stage, and actors furrow their brows to show upset. And then Eyre, Bourne and Fellowes turn the character of Mary Poppins into Jesus Christ.

I'm not kidding. She goes up into a star-studded heaven to garner mystical wisdom, and then returns to earth to perform one more miracle. After everyone finds him- or herself loving everyone else, Mary gives her benediction to all the peoples of world and is assumed slowly up into the sky ... with a solemnity as ecclesiastic as it is campy.

It's pointless to talk about the quality of the specific performances, because I have no doubt the actors, musicians and technicians have been directed to do it exactly like it's been done before. And they do that terrifically. But, more importantly, I'm sure the stage manager can write in his or her nightly report that the show ran exactly the same number of minutes it ran yesterday. Like the film on which it is based, this show will be the same thing no matter how many, or if any, people are watching. Mary Poppins is the opposite of theater.

 

Mary Poppins continues through Jan. 23. Benedum Center, 719 Liberty Ave., Downtown. 412-456-6666 or www.pgharts.org

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