Mary Poppins Review

Mary Poppins, the film, was never a childhood favourite of mine. The story and songs about this most magical of nannies are not my usual fare, either. So, waltzing along to Melbourne’s latest Broadway blockbuster at Her Majesty’s Theatre was a lesson for me. But little did I know that just over two hours later, I would walk out with a lesson in musical theatre I may never forget.

The exceptionally positive early press reviews about the Melbourne production of Mary Poppins the stage musical, a $16 million Disney extravaganza that just may be the most expensive show ever staged in Australia, are right on the money. If ever there was a musical for the whole family to enjoy, this is it. If ever there was a musical to take young (and older) girls along to see, this is it, too. If ever there was a musical with just the right mix of everything for everyone, Mary Poppins is THE show.

Apart from the magical plot and charming songs, the strength in this Mary Poppins is the fact that there is NO weak link in the chain. Co-producer, Cameron Mackintosh, said that due to Australia’s relatively small theatre industry compared to other countries, nowhere else in the world could he cast many of a nations’s leading men and women of the stage in the one show (The Age, 1 Aug., 2001).

Experience certainly adds weight when you want a musical to be “practically perfect” and Mary Poppins has its weight in gold. Understandably though, some of the characters are thinned out a little for the stage production. Marina Prior plays the role of Winifred Banks with that beautiful voice. Philip Quast is a strong and stoic George Banks. Younger audience members will delight in the skill and captivating attraction of Matt Lee who does a fabulous job playing Bert. Other notable performances include Sally-Anne Upton as the hilarious Mrs Brill, Christopher Rickerby as the caricatured Robertson Ay, Judi Connelli as the scary Miss Andrew and Debra Byrne as Bird Woman.

But the star of Melbourne’s Mary Poppins truly was relative newcomer Verity Hunt-Ballard. Surely an inspiration to all aspiring performers, Hunt-Ballard graduated from the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts seven years ago and portrayed a delightfully appealing Mary Poppins with a gorgeous voice, wonderful expressions and a not-too-shabby dance step, either. Close behind are the five sets of children playing Michael and Jane Banks. The night I attended, youngsters Victoria Borcsok and Callum Hawthorne were extraordinary illustrations of what talented children in the performing arts are really capable of.

The choreography in Mary Poppins is nothing short of delicious. The showstoppers didn’t disappoint, with the dancing in Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious one of the tightest examples of choreography in a stage musical I have ever seen, while Step in Time was just fabulous.

The sets, costumes and lighting design in Mary Poppins are also fantastic. It’s been a while since I have seen so much colour in a stage musical. Younger audience members, in particular, will love these aspects of the show. If you’re thinking of bringing the children along, have no fear, there’s plenty to keep them entertained and last the distance. Bert dancing up, across (upside down) and down the other side of the picture frame of the proscenium was jaw-opening! As for Mary Poppins flying out over the stalls and dress circle, then up into a trap door inside Her Majesty’s very high ceiling, well this just has to be one of the most magical moments in musical theatre, ever!

Every single element of the Melbourne production of Mary Poppins is superb. This is first class musical theatre. Not to be missed.

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7 Responses

  1. Katie says:

    Great!!
    Knowing Victoria who played Jane Banks i know that they are very talented kids. I saw it and it was fantastic. I like to tell everyone to see it.

  2. Borbs says:

    West Side was FANTASTIC! Leads with great voices, incredible dancing, simple but effective staging.

    Josh Piterman as Tony was great – what an amazing voice! I personally think he was stronger than the actor on Broadway, nicer tone and more masculine. Save from the overuse of his killer vibrato, he was vocally faultless. Not much of a mover, but then again the role didn’t need it.

    Julie Goodwin was also super as Maria. Stunning clarity of voice, AND faultless accent, even in high soprano!

    We got the understudy as Bernardo – boy was he good!

    Ensemble was super strong in terms of dancing, but the Jets did struggle vocally through some of those numbers. My god that choreography was demanding and just to be able to speak would have been hard!

    Overall: Awesome!

    Lesson: Always go for the show with hungry, raw, young talent. that’s where the action is!

    Bonus: Also great to see a young female conductor, it’s pretty rare.

    Only gripe was the use of tacky rear projected b/w images for a backdrop and the unnecessary opening and closing of the cyc curtain, which was an unwelcome distraction.

    ****

  3. Borbs says:

    I totally agree with you Mike.

    The Good:
    Cute kids, chorus numbers were nice vocally, some nice character moments, nice gimmicks for the kiddos (Mary ‘flies’ through the audience), some nice dance numbers (particularly the chimney sweeps)

    The Bad:
    3 mic malfunctions, P-plate follow-spot operators, actors struggling with accent consistency, little boy with pitching issues, timing, timing, timing – major tempo issues, particularly at the start (I know kid’s attention spans are short, but take your time Eyre, no need to rush – in fact you cannot establish a haunting or ‘mystical’ atmosphere by rushing through scenes, and you cannot cover up a weak opening by rushing either), total lack of tension, and Mary who has much less than a spoonful of sweetness.

    Broadway it isn’t, and unfortunately I’m beginning to lose faith in our ability to put on world class musical theatre. I had always argued that it was because we always cast big names with no talent just to get as many suckers to shell out the dosh (Guys and Dolls a good example). But this time I’m at a loss. We just can’t compete. Shame.

  4. Mike Ford says:

    good. Being a fan of the movie is not required, and in fact may be a disadvantage.
    AS family fun, it’s terrific.
    I dunno, something about it just didn’t work for me.
    Too sweet. Too Disney.
    And part of me wanted to bring down Mary a notch or two with that continual know it all superiority complex that she rightly has.but doesn’t need to remind us of every moment.
    Julie Andrews just WAS practically perfect, it was just obvious.
    Here, Disney seems terrified that we might forget.
    I wanted to be more smitten by her like I was when I was a kid.
    And for $100 + a seat, darn it, I should’ve fallen in love with her, and I didn’t. It’s good, and if you’re rich, take your lucky brats. But honestly poorer kids; watch the movie. You’ll LOVE Mary, and maybe cry like I did when she leaves.

  5. Joshua Mbozole says:

    Hi,

    My name is Joshua Mbozole and i am the chair of Ambozi, a Malawian youth Organisation that promotes art among the youths. The group has been running for two years and we have had over 70 youth attending our activities.

    we are currently looking for volunteers to teach drama at our organisation. we are thinking that it would be good if a volunteer come and teach our members (youths) about drama because currently all the youth that we have, have never attended any drama class and are doing good, and if they can be taught a little we hope they can be on the better position.

    the group does not have finances to source for drama teachers thats why we are asking your organisation to help us with a volunteer.

    I hope that this is something you would consider helping us.

    if you have any question or need more information you an call me on +265 999 676 598 any time.

    looking forward to hearing from you

    regards,

    Joshua
    +265 999 676 598

  6. Justin Cash says:

    Cool. Yes, please let us know what you thought of both of these shows once you see them Borbs. I’m looking forward to West Side Story, too.

  7. Borbs says:

    Sounds like you really enjoyed it! Seeing it next week, followed by West Side. Saw WSS on Broaday ’09, it’ll be intersting to see the comaprison! I’ll tell you my thoughts.

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