‘Poppins’ a legit hit

THEY SCREAMED and then they screamed again. I mean the opening night audience for “Mary Poppins” at the New Amsterdam. Disney and Cameron Mackintosh have mounted another hit of hits. This show arrives with some of the burnish and glow of classics like “My Fair Lady” and “South Pacific” in the past. I can’t imagine what all the dithering and debating and to-ing and fro-ing about whether it can succeed in the U.S. or not has all been about? This “Mary Poppins” is a certifiable super success. Never saw such an audience reaction. As for children being frightened by the scene where the dolls in the nursery come to life, my 10-year-old and 8-year-old were blase though they admitted it was “a little scary.” Most of the time they were standing, clapping and yelling after each stage movement. I can’t say enough good things about this musical. Even its storyline familiarity has been given new depth and shine. Every single cast member is a standout. The scenery and costumes by Bob Crowley? Just great Tony-caliber — especially the bronze and marble statues frolicking in the “Jolly Holiday” number in the park. There are so many magical effects and all of them worked opening night. I never cared for the movie of “Mary Poppins” though I saw its potential for kids. Now, this version from Julian Fellowes with original music/lyrics by Richard and Robert Sherman and additions by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe enhance the idea of a non-explaining magical nanny. The show at the Amsterdam is 1,000% superior to the 1964 film. I could go on and on, but I’ll just say instead — start now trying to get tickets for a long future of applause, applause. And, hey, remember — this isn’t a kid’s show. You will have the time of your life.

KUDOS TO Barry and Fran Weissler for their star-studded and thrilling celebration of their longest-running revival in B’way history, “Chicago.” And one of the nicest things about seeing all the past and present stars of this Kander & Ebb extravaganza — still going strong — was that the audience had water, wine or Margaritas offered upon entering the Shubert Theater. So it was a party. Thus, Chita Rivera, Ann Reinking, Bebe Neuwirth, James Naughton, Joel Grey, Marcia Lewis, David Sabella, Charlotte d’Amboise, Melanie Griffith, Brent Barret, Brooke Shields, Roz Ryan, Brenda Braxton — to name but a few — were seen through a relaxed haze. The night was perfect until the show’s end and a trek to the New World Stages. This offered a confused let-down. One was handed a paper carton of Chinese noodles with chopsticks and left to climb endless stairs to find a seat. No such luck. But Linda Fairstein’s Safe Horizon charity benefited and raised $1.2 million for victim’s assistance. Most of this entire night was a wonderful experience, so maybe we shouldn’t quibble with how much most of these “after parties” don’t work.

SO TOM and Katie are married. We wish them well. Honestly. All we know about their private life is what we think we know, via the tabs. And so we know…very little. And what a brilliant publicity ploy to invite Brooke Shields. Tom is no fool. He knew he’d crossed the line when he criticized her post-partum medication, and the infamous “what happened to her career?” remark. Not only did he apologize to Brooke “privately”–and she told the world on Jay Leno — she became a member of the wedding. What a clever megastar, that Tom. What next? The tabloid stories about “Tom and Katie’s Honeymoon Disaster. She Flees in Tears.” Etc, etc, as the King of Siam once said.

MAYBE I will have seen “Casino Royale” by the time this column appears. The reviews have been solid gold. And I watched Daniel Craig, the new 007, with Charlie Rose last week. He is devastatingly sexy. Charlie opened the show with “Casino Royale’s” trailer, which is compelling. And he also showed a tense scene between Craig and Judi Dench, as James Bond’s superior, M. Dame Judi looked like she was having a fine time as she barked, “Utter one more syllable and I’ll have you killed.” Craig described her eyes as “pools you just fall into…I felt so drawn to her. I’m sure it’s a ploy.”

OUR FRIEND Cybill Shepherd wears her maturity proudly and is never out of work for long. Next year, she’ll join “The L Word” when that series bows for a fourth season on Showtime. Cybill will play a married woman with two children. Her daughter begins to question her own sexuality, thinking she might be gay. Clementine Ford, who just happens to be the fruit of Cybill’s famous loins, will play the onscreen child. (Yes, the loins that knew Elvis.) Cybill makes her appearance on the Jan. 14 episode, Clementine a bit later.

PEOPLE USED to open packages marked “Sinatra” very carefully. The other opening night at Cafe Carlyle, after a reception hosted by Regis Philbin, the singer Steve Tyrell, was flabbergasted to find in his room a big batch of ties worn by the Chairman of the Board himself. They were a gift from Tina Sinatra. (He was also thrilled to see the legend Keely Smith among the stellar crowd.) Steve will close his show New Year’s Eve. His new CD “Songs of Sinatra” is the only recording commissioned by, and based on an idea from, Frank’s family.

The Criterion Collection of foreign film DVD fame is offering a spectacular new boxed set. I was speechless when “Essential Art House: 50 Years of Janus Films” landed heavily onto my lap. It is beyond deluxe. Here is a tiny sampling of what it offers: “The Virgin Spring”…”Kind Hearts and Coronets”…Mr. Hurlot’s Holiday”…”Loves of a Blonde”…”The Lady Vanishes”…La Strada”…”Pandora’s Box”…”Summertime”…”The Third Man.” Bonus features include a 240-page book written by Peter Crowe, with an introduction by Martin Scorsese. This is the Christmas present for any passionate moviegoer in your life… INTO YOUR bookstores Nov. 21 will dance “The Radio City Rockettes: A Dance Through Time,” which shows these glorious women and their dazzling costumes past and present. This is a wonderful book of these tapping stars from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade to the big stage. They are part of American history. Be sure to get your tickets for the Christmas show.

JOSH GROBAN’S big voice has assured him a career. His boyish good looks have made him adored by women around the world. So to celebrate Josh’s hit album, “Awake,” he was feted at New York’s cavernous and glamorous Buddakan, by many female press types who have lifted him up with their praise. Josh’s rep, Liz Rosenberg, gathered Karen Rhee of “Good Morning America,” Zena Burns of Clear Channel, People magazine’s K.C. Baker, USA Today’s Elysa Gardner, Alicia Quarles and Nekesa Moody of the Associated Press. (These two latter smart cookies are known jocularly as the “AP Vixens.”) There were friends such as filmmaker Ben Epstein, makeup artist Dale Johnson, parents Lindy and Jack Groban, Sire Records’ Seymour Stein, and assorted others. Josh was seated at the head of a table surrounded by women, all sporting as much cleavage as they dared. (Rosenberg, glam in what she called “faux dead animal,” kept saying, “Don’t give him any air.” as the ladies pressed in.) The self-deprecating Groban, who is usually shy and nervous, looked pretty relaxed.

CAMILLA RUTHERFORD, who scored big in “Gosford Park” will be in New York around the first of the year to start filming director Wes Anderson’s movie “The Darjeeling Limited.” (Anderson directed the acclaimed “The Royal Tannenbaums.”) Camilla’s leading man will be Oscar-winner Adrien Brody. She plays his pregnant wife. You can also see Camilla in the coming second season of HBO’s “Rome.” She’s not pregnant there, but considering all the steamy stuff she’s required to do, she could get that way.

(Email Liz Smith at MES3838@aol.com)

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