That Other Disney Magic


On Broadway, the word “Disney” is synonymous with “big,” “spectacular,” “humungous”—pretty much any word large enough to encompass human-sized dancing cutlery or a plastic light-up underwater grotto. (Cough, Beauty and the Beast, cough, Little Mermaid.)

But after catching a performance of Mary Poppins tour in Pittsburgh, I realized “Disney” just might be synonymous with another word: intimate.

Ok, ok, physically, Poppins is anything but small. There is, after all, a 30-foot, light up umbrella, a house (with a staircase!), and denizens of dancing statues. But the story, about a family finding its way back to itself, is heartwarmingly simple and surprisingly emotional: Mary Poppins teaches two children generosity, gets a father to value his home life, and returns a mother her peace. Yes, there are enough super-sized tap numbers and expensive design shenanigans to make spectacle-hungry audiences happy, but the really important storytelling business is about nothing more (and nothing less) than humans connecting. 

The show’s final image proves as much. It features not a set piece or a stunt, but a simple family portrait: the Banks family, together, walking forward, united in step and heart.

I’ll take that over a flying nanny any day.

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Photo by Wayne Taylor at the age.com.au, featuring the Australian cast of 
Mary Poppins.

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Eyring the Dirty Laundry

Richard Eyre’s diaries, titled “National Service,” are a brisk, entertaining ride through the Royal National Theatre. As its Artistic Director from 1987 to 1997, Eyre oversaw his share of hits and misses, and these journals offer up articulate, beautiful, behind-the-scenes dish of that storied public performance forum. (I’ve always called it Disneyland for theater lovers, those Denys Lasdun staircases guiding you from patio to bookshop to cafe to theater to terrace and back around again.)

Eyre is descriptive, emotional, gossipy, and concise. As such “National Service” makes for splendid subway reading: Pick up and leave off at will, and never worry about getting bored, as a new topic is a mere entry away.

Much of the book’s pleasure comes from the way theater superstars wander in and out of the pages. One night it’s dinner with Judi [DENCH!], then a show with Tom [STOPPARD!], and finally drunken pub songs with Fiona [SHAW!]

[Read more...]

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