There’s a spoof video on YouTube where the original trailer of Disney’s 1964 film Mary Poppins has been re-edited as Scary Mary, a slasher movie. The thing is, it’s not far from the truth: Looked at soberly through adult eyes, Mary Poppins is less benevolent nanny who twitches her nose like a guest star on Bewitched, and more a mysterious immortal with telekenesis — Carrie White after menopause. She’s like Glinda the Good Witch: magical, but not to be trifled with. There are elements to P.L. Travers’ book series that recall Harry Potter, though it’s all basically a harmless fantasy-adventure series, with loosely related vignettes that don’t tell a cohesive story like Rowling does; the structure most of us are familiar with came with the Disney movie.
The stage version of Mary Poppins, now at the Music Hall for a two-week run courtesy of Dallas Summer Musicals, is less an adaptation of the movie musical than a hodgepodge of elements from the first three books, plus songs from film, plus eight new songs. As a result, it’s not quite loyal to any one source, picking through the scraps in the fossil record like a magpie. Gone are some songs and plot-points from the film (“I Love to Laugh” and the tea party on the ceiling; “Sister Suffragettes” and the entire political subplot about women’s independence, etc.), and added are more numbers, some of which slide surreptitiously under the radar, evocative of the original score (“Being Mrs. Banks,” “Practically Perfect”) and some of which do not (“Brimstone and Treacle,” “Temper, Temper”). The result is that the stage version is neither fish nor fowl — not a musical for purists of the books or the film. If you go in expecting one or the other, you’ll leave unsatisfied.