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