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More than one ‘Mary Poppins’ here

Befitting a musical with as many hands behind it as there are pigeons in London, “Mary Poppins” sometimes resembles a shambling Frankenstein monster, as perceptions and expectations from several different eras jumble together into a whole. Neither a direct stage version of the famed 1964 film musical nor completely taking its cues from P.L. Travers’ original books, the stage show now running at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis features some amazing technical wizardry and a string of excellent performances. All of this, however, can’t hide long stretches of tedium between the “wow” moments.

You know the story: ­ Unruly, forgotten children are brought into a world of wonder by the “practically perfect” nanny Mary Poppins, who opens the doors of their stiff Edwardian lives to the magical wonders of London. By the end, all of the characters have learned important lessons about living life to the fullest and paying attention to those closest to you. All of this is fine, but the show leaves no doubt about the messages, as they are brought, reiterated, referenced again, sung about in a few reprises and then summed up once again at the end. It’s like spending three hours with an ABC after-school special.

Still, those feelings melt away during the brilliant set pieces, such as the Technicolor explosions of “Jolly Holiday” (complete with dancing statues) and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” And where else are you going to see a troupe of tap dancing chimney sweeps?

As the work hews closer to the original books, there’s a bit more mystery and darkness here. Usually, I’m all for that, but it isn’t integrated well into the proceedings, making a piece like “Playing the Game” (where the toys come to scary life) or a scene where an evil nanny gets sent, basically, to hell, particularly jarring.

The cast is professional from top to bottom. While Ashley Brown is fine as Mary (she is following one of the signature performances of the last half century), it’s Gavin Lee — ­ bringing a string of awards and kudos all the way from the original London production, as chimney sweep/artist/jack of all trades Bert — who steals the show. His tall, lean body moves with easy grace or broad slapstick, often within the same moment. It’s a performance that’s almost worth the price of admission on its own. Of course, a stronger, more focused production could have taken care of that as well.

“Mary Poppins” runs through Sept. 20 at the Orpheum Theatre, 910 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis. Tickets are $25 to $133.50. For tickets and more information, call 1-800-982-2787 or visit online.

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