Three months ago today, I began a journey to become George Banks, the father from the beloved children’s books and Disney film “Mary Poppins.” I love David Tomlison’s portrayal of the proper Mr. Banks and the music from the film has always enchanted me. So when the opportunity came to play Mr. Banks in both casts of Alpine Community Theater’s 2015 summer production, I just couldn’t resist.
Mr. Banks and I have a lot in common. We are both business bankers, tasked with the important job of deciding how best to invest our banks’ money. We are both fathers — my daughter Lily and son James are roughly the same ages as Jane and Michael. We share the common struggle of meeting the unique challenges of fatherhood, including how to provide a strong, steady positive influence while maintaining a balance between discipline/respect and love/friendship with our children.
At the beginning of the show, George is disconnected from his family and disengaged from his most important role as a husband and father. When Mrs. Banks suggests that the children would like to come and say goodnight to him, he replies dismissively, “Tell them you’ve given me the message.” The line illustrates just how distant he has become from his children. He is totally absorbed in advancing his career and in keeping up appearances to the determent of all else.
It takes a stern, yet loveable nanny to jolt him out of this negative state of improperly placed priorities. Mary Poppins comes to Number 17 Cherry Tree Lane with a positive, but no-nonsense attitude that whips the children into shape, but also sets in motion a series of events that gives George the opportunity to change. Faced with unemployment and foreclosure, along with the return of his own nanny Miss Andrew (who represents abuse and neglect from his own childhood), George is forced to decide what’s most important.
“Illusions may shatter, but memories stay; the things that really matter, I lost on the way,” he sings while despondently reflecting on the sorry state of his life while walking through the park. He finally recognizes the need to change. Moments later, a whole host of chimney sweeps descends into his house just before he takes the long walk to the bank to learn of his professional fate. (Turns out he gets a promotion and a healthy raise because his decision was the right one. Check out the following clips.)
There are several moments that I love in this show. I love the scene where Mary Poppins teaches the children about happily serving those who can’t possibly repay your generosity in “Feed the Birds.” I love the message of remaining cheerful and energetic even when we have tasks we’d rather not do, as conveyed in “A Spoonful of Sugar.” I love the scene between George Banks and chimney sweep Bert in which Bert reminds George that “childhood slips like sand through a sieve and all too soon they (the children) have up and grown and then they’ve flown, and it’s too late for you to give a spoonful of sugar…” It’s a poignant moment in which George finally realizes that he is letting the precious moments of childhood slip by and that his priorities have been wrong. I know I’ll think of this sweet lesson when I’m tired from a long work day and I’d rather not be bothered by my kids. I will strive to enjoy and be “fully present” for those fleeting moments with my children.
Yes, there are many moments that I love in this show. But my favorite is one in which Jane and Michael come to George with some coins that they have been saving. They know that he’s been going through a difficult time lately (on unpaid leave from his job awaiting a decision about his future) and they tell him that they think “a bit of extra cash might loosen things up a little.”
Wide-eyed, they willingly offer their father the money, exclaiming, “It’s a WHOLE SHILLING!” In their minds, they have just given their father a precious gift because it is all they possess. In the grand scheme of things, a shilling would have made very little difference in the family’s financial situation. George knows this and yet he is deeply touched with their willingness to give it. This tender moment on the stage is my favorite of the show. As the children look up at George and reach out their hands to offer their “widow’s mite,” he accepts their offering with gratitude.
I have reflected on the beautiful symbolism of this little exchange and how it relates to the atonement of Jesus Christ. We are children of God who has given us everything. Our loving father asks us to freely, lovingly give Him a “broken heart and a contrite spirit.” Compared to the tremendous weight of the debt we owe to Him, our offering is meager at best. But as we offer Him our whole hearts, He accepts our offering with joy.
Often when I think about the message of the atonement embedded into this little scene, I get tears in my eyes. In the grand scheme of things, our offering to God is miniscule. Our repentance and willingness to follow Him is so very small in comparison to all that He has done for us. And yet, it is enough. The Lord Jesus Christ embraces us and expresses His joy at our willingness to “come unto Christ and be perfected in Him.” (Moroni 10:32)
For me, this is the most powerful message of the show. God’s love for us knows no bounds. It is sweeping and unconditional. He has given us everything and all he asks of us is our willingness to give our “widow’s mite.” He asks for the ONE thing that is ours alone to give: our heart. And while it may seem wholly inadequate, it is enough.
This is the story of the redemption of George Banks. As an actor, I dedicated three months of my life rehearsing for and then presenting to audiences this heartfelt transformation. May these lessons sink deep into my soul. May I never forget.