Two Visits From Mary Poppins

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The Detroit Movie Palaces add so much variety to the experiences of area moviegoers that it’s extra fun when they create different ways to enjoy the same movie. That happened recently when the Michigan Theater and the Redford Theatre screened the 1964 children’s classic Mary Poppins.

The Michigan presented a sing-along verion of this charming Walt Disney production on Memorial Day weekend (May 24-25, 2009), while the Redford screened the original version on June 26 and 27, 2009. I’ll be up front about my preference for the original version, but that didn’t keep me from enjoying the novelty of the Michigan showing and the special atmosphere that the Michigan staff created to help patrons enjoy a “jolly ‘oliday with Mary.”

While I watched the movie at the Redford, I enjoyed connecting directly with the wonderful music and singing from Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, and others. Andrews won an Oscar for her performance, which helped introduce her to movie audiences after she had made her mark on the stage in such productions as My Fair Lady and Camelot. The music had that special warmth and resonance that you could only find in the old Disney movies.

But interestingly, the Redford screening also brought back happy memories of my visit to the Michigan, and the songs I most enjoyed singing. I remember how strongly the novelty of the sing-along atmosphere hit during the first number, “Sister Suffragette.” There was the fast-paced energy of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and “Step in Time.” And my favorite moment, the transcendent, climactic “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” which left a smile on everyone’s faces in both theaters as the movie ended and the lights came up.

I attended afternoon performances at both theaters, and the high percentage of young children in the audiences added to the fun and innocence of the event. Both theaters used special props to make the day more exciting.

At the Michigan, a young woman dressed as Mary Poppins sat to the side of the stage during the movie. She led the audience in their singing and helping them get more enjoyment out of a bag of goodies that included a tiny parasol. Over at the Redford, kites were hung from the ceiling in the front lobby, and a drawing was held for a black umbrella like those used in the movie.

Mary Poppins opened in Detroit to the general public on Oct. 16, 1964 at the Adams theater. On Oct. 15, The Varsity Club of Detroit hosted a private showing of the movie that benefited the Growth and Development Center of Children’s Hospital. Julie Andrews appeared at the benefit, and later made television and radio appearances in Detroit to promote the movie. “Acclaimed!” read a Detroit newspaper ad. “Walt Disney’s Greatest Achievement!”

Singing Along

This was my second sing-along experience at the Michigan. About 7-8 years ago, it presented The Sound of Music, and I most vividly remember the playful energy of “Do-Re-Mi” and the emotional power of “Climb Every Mountain” and “Edelweiss.” At the Michigan Theater screening of Mary Poppins, theater Executive Director/CEO Russ Collins announced that other sing-along screenings were planned, for movies like Grease and White Christmas. I admit that I’m looking forward to those events, after seeing both movies in their original version on the big screen in the last year.

I have mixed feelings about sing-along events. On one hand, they create new experiences for movies that someone might have already seen many times. It creates a unique theatrical and group experience. There’s tough competition for the entertainment dollar right now. The Michigan is using the latest Walt Disney production, the Pixar animated movie Up, to use its newly acquired digital 3-D projection equipment to draw in people who might not otherwise come to see its usual blend of foreign language, independent, documentary, and classic films.

On the other hand, I’d hate to see the sing-along version of a movie become the only way to see it. Viewers should have the chance to see it as the original director intended, like black-and-white films that have been colorized. When the Redford showed The Sound of Music earlier this year, I was glad that it was the original version, even though I greatly enjoyed the sing-along version that I had seen at the Michigan.

So there you have further proof of these theaters’ abilities to both preserve and innovate – and we’re all much luckier for it.

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Copyright © 2009 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.

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