Adapting the 1964 film “Mary Poppins” to a musical theater show seems like a reasonable transition on paper. Apart from the signature entrance and exit of its titular character, it wouldn’t be all that difficult to produce. And the film is practically a musical already.
But a word-for-word and scene-for-scene adaptation would be quite boring, which is why the musical combines elements from the film as well as the Mary Poppins children’s books by P.L. Travers.
Dianna Spirk, who stars as the fantastical nanny in the Sioux City Community Theatre’s production of “Mary Poppins,” said the storyline has been altered from the original film and includes more characters and more songs -- and there’s even an antagonist in the show.
“It’s the former nanny – Miss Andrew,” Spirk said of the brutal nanny tyrant, a polar opposite of Mary Poppins. Co-star Benjamin Mauritz, who plays Bert, the cockney man of many professions, added that the musical tends to provide more details from Travers’ book.
“The main things that are taken from the movie are the songs,” he said.
The musical, as one might guess, is chock full of songs and chim chim cher-ee cheer. The Sioux City Community Theatre’s large stage allows the ensemble cast to perform huge dance numbers in a variety of unique settings -- one particular dance segment lasts 10 minutes.
“Everybody is busy, busy, busy from the start of the show until the end,” said Spirk. “The ensemble is made up of people on the street or people in the park or chimney sweeps or bankers -- they have a lot of roles that they have to fill.”
Despite the differences in plot and songs, the story’s two central characters -- Mary and Bert, portrayed by Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke in the film -- are still very much the same. The two offer a sense of familiarity to the play, allowing audiences to pick them out of a crowd and say, “That’s Mary” or “That’s Bert” without either actor having to say a single line of dialogue.
That isn’t to say the musical is devoid of familiar songs like “A Spoonful of Sugar” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” Those tunes are still very much the same albeit with more choreography, which Spirk said is the most challenging aspect of the whole musical for her.
“Our director owns a dance theater and she’s got her girls that come in and they are so good,” said Spirk. “And we gotta make it look like we know what we’re doing.”
“Yeah, we just kind of get thrown in the middle of the tappers during ‘Step in Time,’” added Mauritz. “The biggest challenge I have is just getting all my musical numbers memorized because a lot of the music for this show is very similar. It will be the exact same melody but with different words or be the same melody but slowed down. There are all these variants of the same tune.”
Much like the movie, the musical has plenty of upbeat moments, but is more of an emotional roller coaster compared to the film. Not to say the film lacks any poignant moments -- it most certainly does -- but the musical’s plot allows for more varied scenes, thereby developing its characters.
“It breaks George and Winifred Banks down into real life characters that the audience can relate to,” said Mauritz. “There are also scenes that are sort of deemed a little scary.”
Spirk interjected, “The toy scene! The toys come alive and surround the kids and kind of trap them.”
Yikes! This is certainly a different kind of Mary Poppins story than we’re used to.