Mary Poppins

CAPITOL THEATRE: Based on both the original books by P.L.Travers and the 1964 Disney film, this musical really is supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.
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Most people are familiar with the 1964 Disney film starring Julie Andrews and Dick van Dyke, and probably have their favourite songs from the film – many of which have been transplanted into this ‘practically perfect’ musical. Featuring magical flying, pantomime special effects, and huge, show stopping numbers – what more could enchanted audiences ask for?

Set in Edwardian times, Mary Poppins is based on the books by Australian author P.L.Travers, and tells the story of the rather dysfunctional Banks family, whose lives are changed completely with the arrival of a new nanny, Mary Poppins. The Banks children, Michael and Jane, have gone through a series of nannies recently. Will Mary Poppins be able to cope? Does she fulfill the selection criteria of both parents and children? You’ll have to see the show to find out.

Leading lady Sarah Bakker (I didn’t get to see Verity Hunt-Ballard) as Mary Poppins is crisp, elegant and super efficient, yet also a bit cold and aloof – a being from another world, a wish fulfillment dream nanny? There are some wonderful pantomime-like effects when she battles the Holy Terror, that dragon of a nanny, Miss Andrew, played deliciously villainously by Judi Connelli, who has a whale of a time with the song ‘Brimstone and Treacle’ (and who also plays Queen Victoria!).

Narrator, artist, dancer, chimney sweep and general theatrical magic maker Bert is splendiferously played by Matt Lee, who brings the house down in ‘Step in Time’. Marvelous!

As troubled, stressed George Banks, Philip Quast is delightful, and in glorious voice. With the recent Global Financial Crisis and its ongoing effects, his situation – facing a financial crash and unemployment – is still extremely relevant today. Under George’s seemingly cold exterior (‘Precision and Order’) is actually a very warm heart and a yearning for his lost childhood.

As Mrs Banks, an ash-blonde and stunning Marina Prior is superb, and we see how her character grows stronger as she tries to save the rather rocky Banks marriage.

The children, Jane and Michael (there are five different casts, and sadly I am not sure who I saw) are terrifically played, as are the cook, Mrs Brill (Sally-Anne Upton) and general hand, Robertson (Christopher Rickerby). Debra Byrne as the mysterious bird woman is heartbreaking.

In the first half, the huge show stopper number is the almost impossible to say or spell ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ at Mrs Coreys (Leah Howard). The major, extended production number that pulls all the stops out is ‘Step in Time’ in the second half, and totally dazzles.

If you know Matthew Bourne’s splendid choreography you can see allusions to his Swan Lake, Edward Scissorhands and Nutcracker especially – and also in some of the costume designs and special effects. There are also allusions to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang on show, both musically and choreographically.

The voices are excellent and the orchestra flourishes under maestro Michael Tyack. The set design by Bob Crowley is magical, especially the flying parts of the Banks residence at 17 Cherry Tree Lane. I also especially liked how everything suddenly blossomed into colour for ‘Jolly Holiday’ and the Impressionist vertical screens as trees in the park.

It is interesting to note there are some slight changes, if I am correct, from the London production – ‘Playing the Game’ isn’t quite as dark as I remember, and less is made here of Neleus the Statue’s search for his father.

The audience at the end roared and screamed its approval, cheering and applauding wildly and clapping along to ‘Step In Time’ and ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’. Mary and Bert weave their mysterious theatrical magic to create a joyous smash hit that’s well worth the very expensive ticket prices.

Mary Poppins
Produced by Disney Theatrical Group & Cameron Mackintosh
Original songs & music: Richard M. Sherman & Robert B. Sherman
New songs & vocal arrangements: George Stiles
New songs and additional lyrics: Anthony Drewe
Book: Julian Fellowes
Director: Richard Eyre
Co-director & choreographer: Matthew Bourne
Scenic & costume design: Bob Crowley
Lighting designer: Howard Harrison

Running time: Two hours 45 minutes including interval

Lynne Lancaster
About the Author
Lynne Lancaster is a Sydney based arts writer who has previously worked for Ticketek, Tickemaster and the Sydney Theatre Company. She has an MA in Theatre from UNSW, and when living in the UK completed the dance criticism course at Sadlers Wells, linked in with Chichester University.