Mary Poppins, Murderess?

By James H. Burns: Just one more addendum to this Disney/P.L. Travers conversation…

Almost ten years ago, a STAGE version of the Disney musical opened in London’s West End, co-presented by the famed theatrical impresario, Cameron Macintosh…

A couple of years later, it opened on Broadway, and is still receiving, I believe, regional productions.

At first, there was concern among the Broadway cast, in rehearsals and previews, because they felt some of the sequences — including one in which toys came alive to menace the kids–were just too terrifying for youngsters…

Things were evidently toned down a bit before opening night, but it was still an odd show, that received mixed notices.

But what stunned me was about halfway through the musical, when Mary, returning to the Banks house to take over from an extremely nasty new nanny, suddenly sends the governess downwards with flames jutting up —

Could this possibly be interpreted as anything but Mary having just sent the gal to hell?

Strangely, almost no critics seemed to comment on this sequence, and one friend suggested it was little different from the movie Mary making her competition, the other applicants for the Banks job, fly away in the wind.

But murder is a little more serious than an ill-blown wag, no?

Take this than as a gentle warning to File 770 readers who might in the future think of taking their kids to a new stage production of the most recent Disney Poppins

And here’s a ditty I noodled, around the time of the original Broadway controversy:

Super Cali frags linguistics,
Little children crying.
Parents thought they bought some tix,
For family fun and flying.
But Macintosh thinks that scaring kids,
Is something kind of charming.
So get ready for some moistened pants,
And fears of children dying!

7 thoughts on “Mary Poppins, Murderess?

  1. It’s nice to see that the producers of the Broadway production had some sense of tradition, and cast an actor in the role of Bert whose attempt at a Cockney accent is as inauthentic and unconvincing as Dick Van Dyke’s was.

  2. According to an article by Caitlin Flanagan that appeared in the NEW YORKER in 2005 and which is accessible on, Travers, who lived until the late 1990s, worked closely in the development of the MARY POPPINS musical and thought it was closer to her vision of the books than the 1964 movie was.

  3. Hiding behind the sofa from the Doctor Who monsters is a rite of passage for British children, so I’m sure that a bit of scariness is more acceptable Over There. Also, given that children (probably) wouldn’t be in the play’s audience without a trusted adult, it’s a near-certainty they would be comforted during any scary scenes.

    My boys watched the movie Mary Poppins even before they could speak, and my son Kevin was scared by the scene in which Mr. Banks arrives at the bank to be sacked: he even then understood that something was wrong (the dark lighting and the red curtains at the bank may have figured into it, I don’t know) — but at other times when he and his brother were crying, I could comfort them by singing “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” while gently bouncing them in my arms to the song’s rhythm.

    I have a hole in my reading and never read any of the Travers books — but I first saw the Disney version some 49 years ago, at age nine, and had all the songs memorized from the vinyl album on the record player I got for Christmas that year in probably record time. It has brought joy to me and then my children for all those years. I don’t need to see Saving Mr. Banks to have that joy spoiled, and so I won’t.

    By the way, huge credits to Peter David for enabling me to see that the story was not about Mary but about the change in George Banks so that he took more time and joy with his children. It’s a lesson I took to heart with my own sons, and to Peter I am eternally grateful.

  4. It’s been many years since I’ve read the Mary Poppins books, but as I recall, the redoubtable Ms. Poppins was kind of… scary? In the story where, if I recall correctly, the stone lions came to life, she seemed oddly unconcerned about the possibility of innocent park visitors being eaten.

  5. The Mary Poppins books were much darker than the Disney movie. If one were making a movie faithful in tone to the books, Julie Andrews is not an actress who would come to mind for the role.

  6. Speaking of DOCTOR WHO…


    Didn’t someone once suggest that Mary Poppins was actually a Time Lord?

    (Which, I guess would make her magical satchel, her Time and Relative Dimension in Space.)

    And, by the way, it’s pleasant to order one’s fish and chips, with Tardis sauce…

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