This sort of thing doesn't happen every day. The last time was 2001's The Producers. Before that, 1997's The Lion King. The latest title set to line the pockets of producers and theatre owners with riches —and line the sidewalks leading up to box offices with ticketbuyers — is Mary Poppins, which opened in London on Dec. 15 to reviews so uniformly rapturous they surely surprised even producers Disney and Cameron Mackintosh, who are not unused to success.
Mary Poppins has, according to press reports, already exceeded its budget (put by Reuters news agency at nearly $20 million) in advance ticket sales only two days after opening night. The Poppins explosion is good news for both producers. Disney now has a critical and (potentially) commercial hit to serve as a worthy follow-up to The Lion King, the show that made the company's theatrical reputation. And Mackintosh, who reigned in the '80s with such shows as Phantom of the Opera, Les Miz and Miss Saigon, returns in top form after a decade of relative disappointments.
Neither party has talked specifics about a Broadway production, but, in light of the reviews, sooner rather than later would seem to fit the mood. New York has been starved for the sort of show that can energize the Broadway scene, and theatregoers want a new option in the family entertainment vein. Of course, the Gotham premiere will have to feature Laura Michelle Kelly, who was hailed for her portrayal of the title wonder nanny; Mackintosh has, in the past, insisted his London stars repeat their work overseas. And the megamusical will need an appropriately roomy home on Broadway. Most of the theatres that fit that bill are currently filled, but it's hard to imagine their owners not sweeping out whoever they'd need to make room for Mary. Also, Disney has not shown itself adverse to shuffling its shows about to make room for a new arrival.
Nothing nearly as exciting happened Stateside, but the town did see a couple of modest hits emerge. Neil LaBute's provocatively titled Fat Pig was deemed a step forward for the misanthropic playwright, with the cast given high marks. The limited run was quickly extended to Feb. 5. And Lincoln Center Theater's The Rivals was praised as suitably amusing holiday entertainment, with extra kudos dolled out for veterans Dana Ivey and Richard Easton. Another Off-Broadway show also extended, the lauded New York Theatre Workshop staging of Caryl Churchill's A Number. It will continue until Feb. 13, though, alas, the extra weeks will not feature star Sam Shepard. Meanwhile, one of Off-Broadway's few hits during the past year, Tracy Letts' Bug, announced it would close on Jan. 30.