A scene from "Black Mary Poppins," a new homegrown musical inspired by the works of P. L. Travers. The show runs through July 29 at Art One Theater in the Daehangno district, central Seoul. / Courtesy of Asia Bridge Contents
Mary Poppins is everyone including my ideal nanny but a new South Korean homegrown musical “Black Mary Poppins” takes a different shade.
Inspired by Australian novelist P. L. Travers’ “Mary Poppins” series, the new production revolves around a nanny and four children she takes care of. British banker Mr. Banks is replaced by psychologist Grantschen Schwartz in Nazi Germany and the mischievous children become wounded spirits who have lost their memory due to trauma.
The musical begins with a shadow play in which a nanny manipulates the children. When the curtain goes up, a simple set is revealed with layers of frames in the background, a revolving stage and four chairs on each side of the stage.
A fire breaks out in Dr. Schwartz’s house and he is killed, leaving only his ashes. His four adopted children are saved by their nanny Mary Schmit, who is severely burnt, but lose their memories. A detective investigating the fire suspects Mary of arson. She then goes missing during the investigation, deepening his suspicion. The children are sent to different foster families and the case seems to be closed.
Some 12 years later, the eldest Hans, an alcoholic lawyer, receives a notebook from the detective, which originally belonged to his adoptive father Dr. Schwartz. When he reads it, he had to summon — and even kidnap — his adopted brothers and sister — painter Hans, music teacher Anna and the youngest Jonas suffering from a panic disorder.
The four siblings go back and forth between the present and future to revive their missing memories on “Silent Wednesday.” As secrets are uncovered layer by layer, they face the darker truth about the people they trusted.
Writer, director and composer Seo Youn-mi is a rising dramatist in Seoul’s small theater district Daehangno. She enjoyed success with her previous play “Push & Pull,” which imagined a love story between Princess Seonhwa and Seodong that crossed the borders of the Silla and Baekje Kingdoms in the 6th century. A former copywriter, Suh’s witty lines make the audiences double up with laughter, but “Black Mary Poppins” came from her darker side.
However, the music fails to resonate with the riveting story. Seo composed the songs but her lack of musical expertise falls short in the self-proclaimed psychological thriller. The melodies are monotonous and do not portray the delicate yet unstable mystery involving the four children and the truth beneath it.
The cast are young and talented, adding a raw, freshness to the show. Heartthrbos Jung Sang-yoon and Jang Hyun-duk play Hans, while Jeon Sung-woo and Kang Ha-neul portray Herman. All four of them starred in “Thrill Me,” one of the most popular musicals in Korea.
Lim Kang-hee of “Mozart!,” Song Sang-eun of “Spring Awakening” and Jung Woon-sun of “Organ in My Heart” alternate in the role of Anna. Actors Kim Dae-hyun and Yoon Na-moo play Jonas.
Veteran actresses Chu Jeong-hwa and Tae Guk-hee alternate as tender nanny Mary.
The show runs through July 29 at Art One Theater in Daehangno, central Seoul. Tickets cost 45,000 to 60,000 won. For more information, visit ticket.interpark.com/global or call (02) 548-0597.