directed by James Powell for Disney and Cameron Mackintosh in association with Michael
Theatre Sydney until October 9.
on 3rd August reviewed by Bill Stephens
My first encounter with this production of “Mary Poppins” in 2011 is a treasured memory only partly because it provided me the opportunity to meet and interview the co-creator of the musical, Cameron Mackintosh. James Powell was charged with adapting Richard Eyre’s original direction for the Australian production which starred Verity Hunt-Ballard as Mary Poppins and Matt Lee as Bert supported by an all-star cast which included Phillip Quast, Marina Prior and Judi Connelli. I remember it as a joyous production.
In 2015 I
saw another production of “Mary Poppins”. This time an excellent pro-am production
by Free Rain Theatre in the Canberra Theatre for which director, Stephen Colyer,
lacking the bells and whistles of a full professional production, still managed
to capture the inherent joy of the musical, with a talented cast in which
Alinta Chidzey, currently starring as Satine in “Moulin Rouge”, was a delicious
Mary Poppins besides Shaun Rennie’s delightfully cheeky Bert.
So what does
“Mary Poppins” have to offer audiences in 2022?
Well quite a considerable amount as it turns out.
Powell is at the helm of the Australian production, and rather than just re-producing his very
successful 2011 production, he’s taken advantage of advances in theatre
technology to gild the lily with even more awe-provoking theatrical magic guaranteed
to drop the jaw of even most cynical theatre goer.
But it’s not
only the theatrical effects that make this production memorable. Stefanie Jones
is a very spit-spot Mary Poppins, who arrives uninvited and who immediately
installs herself as the nanny of the Banks children, Jane and Michael. At this performance, Jane and Michael Banks
were delightfully portrayed by
11year-old, Mia Honeysett and 12 year-old scene- stealer, Ben Stabile.
|Ben Stabile (Michael Banks) - Stephanie Jones (Mary Poppins) - Mia Honeysett (Jane Banks)
her crystalline clear singing voice and commanding stage presence is perfect
casting as Mary Poppins. She states her credentials in “Practically Perfect”
and “A Spoonful of Sugar” and takes her charges on a “Jolly Holiday”,
encourages kite flying, and confidently leads
the whole company through the frenetic staging of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”.
this performance she tended to aim her performance over the heads of the audience
and had very little eye-contact with the other cast members, so that her Mary
often appeared conceited and self-centred. This might be deliberate and in keeping with P.L.Travers’
descriptions of Mary, but hopefully a little more warmth might find its way
into her characterisation as her performance matures.
Chambers as Bert, on the other hand, was charm personified, a brilliant dancer
and totally captivating in “Jolly Holiday” and particularly when executing a
dance routine up-side-down around the theatre proscenium.
|Stefanie Jones (Mary Poppins) - Jack Chambers (Bert) and Company in "Jolly Holiday".
At this performance
the roles of George and Winifred Banks were played by understudies, Stephen Anderson
and Genevieve Kingsford. Both, understandably, took a little time to settle,
but gained confidence as the performance progressed, found their level and
offered charming renditions of “Being Mrs Banks” from Kingsford and “A Man Has
Dreams” from Anderson.
|Hannah Waterman (Mrs Brill) - Gareth Isaac (Robertson Ay) in "Mary Poppins"
Waterman as the long-suffering, mouthy housekeeper, Mrs Brill and Gareth Isaac
as her gangly offsider, the butler, Robertson Ay offered polished comedic
performances. The audience roared its delight
when Chelsea Plumley, unrecognisable as the formidable Miss Andrew, received her
come-uppance from Mary, while veteran Robert Grubb was clearly enjoying his multi-casting
as Admiral Boom and the Chairman of the Bank.
stealing the show and definitively demonstrating the old adage that there is no
such thing as a small role, stage legend Nancye Hayes, luxury casting as the bird
woman, had many reaching for their tissues with her touching performance of “Feed
|Nancye Hayes performing "Feed The Birds"
production numbers performed by dancing statues, colourful costumes in lolly-shops,
Wonderful pop-up storybook houses to live in, glittering chimney- sweeps
dancing over rooftops on a starry London night, and even Mary Poppins herself
flying out into the theatre right over your head, “Mary Poppins” has it all.
It’s the kind of show that makes you want to
rush out and gather up every kid in the neighbourhood to experience the joy and
wonder of live theatre. That’s what “Mary Poppins” is offering in 2022.
Images by DANIEL BOUD
This review also published in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW. www.artsreview.com.au