Mary Poppins. Her very name invokes our earliest memories of unanticipated, sudden, amazing experiences. A new film or, in this case, a musical, draws us in with great expectations of yet more magic and new wonders to be held.
Brought to us by Disney and Cameron Mackintosh in association with Michael Cassel Group, this grand production does not disappoint. Clearly, it’s a massive undertaking, (the cast and credits require their own book, separate to the programme.) The outcome is all class, pure success. ‘Practically perfect!’
Suddenly, we are not in Brisbane. We are in Victorian London in a pre-Covid world and the moment that this very special nanny arrives the ordinary becomes extraordinary. We don’t know where she’s sprung from, but it doesn’t matter. She doesn’t need any references. Mary Poppins with her surprise-filled carpet bag, wastes no time in establishing herself as amazing.
The 1964 film, Mary Poppins, was based on the series of books by P.L. Travers. There are some welcome modifications. The heroine portrayed in the original books is so narcissistic and nasty that I never did manage to complete my reading of those books.
Thankfully, as with Peter Pan, Walt Disney discarded the awful and focused on the wonderful. Thankfully, this Mary Poppins has warmth and depth. She’s nice to have around and is much missed when she has suddenly gone AWOL.
Without the children in the nursery, there would be no need for a nanny. There are five children in the original books, including a set of twins. For pragmatic purposes, their numbers are conveniently reduced to two, initially quarrelsome but ultimately charming, young ones. A girl, Jane and a boy, Michael.
The roles of the two children are shared between eight little actors. On opening night Dorothea Seierup and Fraser Goodreid brilliantly made their musical theatre debuts as Jane and Michael Banks. The wonderful performances of these children in this genre, reassures us that the future of musical theatre in Australia is safe.
Wisely and commendably, the core characters have not been modernised or tampered with. That would be a travesty. The creatives in the production team have preserved all the elements and fashion of the famed, Victorian era.
It is somewhat ageless and so quintessentially British. (The children in the Royal family are still dressed in that style and I love the Victorian nighties that I own.) Great to hear those educated English accents so well-articulated, even if they are reminders of elocution lessons at school.
Potentially, the settings, costumes, and characters in Mary Poppins could be perceived as stereotypes. Yet, somehow, they never become tiresome. They are like classical music. Timeless.
Whilst, I know the scenes and the original songs, I still looked on in expectant anticipation. I remembered that long ago, a reminder not to sing along out loud. But I can understand why that little girl during interval, burst forth from a toilet cubicle as though from a dressing room – dancing and singing for us with gusto.
Central to the books, films and stage productions is the character, Mary Poppins. The titular role was impeccably embraced by Stefanie Jones. Her portrayal of the leading lady was flawless.
All of the characters in this story are invaluable and, in this production, they are carefully selected and cleverly cast. Individually they are commanding in their separate roles. Collectively, they dominate the entire theatre.
I was personally astounded by the formidable performance of Chelsea Plumley as the ‘Holy Terror’, Miss Andrew! I’m nearly certain that she was the fearsome nun from my primary school days, Sister Alexa, reincarnated. I felt a familiar terror.
My eyes forgot to blink. My lungs forgot to inhale and exhale. Sister Alexa had dived through the decades to appear on stage and terrify me one more time. I realised that her prophesies of my future had been fulfilled. (It wasn’t enough for me to dance pre-approved steps, recite pre-approved poetry or portray Mary in the nativity play.) I’ve immersed myself in the Arts.
There was a sudden halt during the performance ‘due to technical difficulties’. It lasted 12 minutes which may be considered a rapid, resolution time. I noted that the audience didn’t seem to mind. The opportunity for excited chatter was seized and the show then resumed to resounding cheers.
I commend and greatly recommend this outstanding production. If there is a child in Brisbane who has not yet met Mary Poppins, this is the ideal introduction.
Lyric Theatre – QPAC, Cultural Precinct, South Bank (Brisbane)
Performance: Thursday 27 October 2022
Season continues to January 2023
Her Majesty’s Theatre, 219 Exhibition Street, Melbourne
Season from 29 January 2023
For more information, visit: www.marypoppinsmusical.com.au for details.
Images: Stefanie Jones as Mary Poppins and Company in Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious | The Company of Mary Poppins performing Jolly Holiday | Patti Newton as Bird Woman performing Feed The Birds – all photos by Daniel Boud
Review: Michele-Rose Boylan