Mary Poppins

Mary Poppins
Disney Theatrical Productions (Australia). Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne (VIC). Australian Premiere - July 29.

I didn’t think it possible, but Disney Theatrical Productions have created a show that is more spectacular than Wicked on exactly the same budget. And the differences are not subtle – every aspect of this production is considerably more impressive and advanced than it’s older sibling. Mary Poppins is $14 million very well spent.

Verity Hunt-Ballard stole the collective heart of the audience with her more than practically perfect portrayal of Mary. Her beautiful, original interpretation develops Mary’s complex character without bowing unnecessarily to the ubiquitous rendition by Dame Julie Andrews. There was an unmistakable sparkle in Hunt-Ballard’s eyes as she floated past the balcony on opening night – a glint of her intimate understanding of Mary’s character and a profound knowledge of the importance of this story to audiences young and old.

Matt Lee has finally been cast in a role with enough exposure to allow Australian audience’s to appreciate his talents completely, not simply as one of the country’s great contemporary dance artists. His flawless performance is a credit to his years of training and a highlight of this exciting production.

Philip Quast and Marina Prior (both parents themselves) bring their personal experiences of family to their portrayals of Mr. and Mrs. Banks. Quast is best known for his quintessential performance of Javert in Les Misérables, and Prior for her numerous leading roles in Cats, The Phantom of the Opera, West Side Story, Show Boat, and many more. Both performances and warm and full of humour – a beautiful compliment to the dramatic through-line of the show.

Jane and Michael Banks (played by Hayley Edwards and Kurtis Papadinis on opening night) were both frighteningly talented for their young ages. Their confident performances were only strengthened by the wit and humour of book writer Julian Fellowes.

Fellowes’ story draws from the original tales by Australian author, actress, and journalist Pamela Lyndon Travers OBE. Mary’s adventures in Travers’ books aren’t as rosy as the 1964 film and some of the more challenging aspects of the original texts have been worked into the stage production. I preferred the more complex journey of the musical to that of the movie.

George Stiles and Anthony Drewe’s new songs for the stage production are slightly hit and miss. “Practically Perfect,” “Playing the Game” and “Anything Can Happen” are wonderful new additions that align beautifully with the Sherman brothers’ original tunes. “Cherry Tree Lane,” “Precision and Order,” and “Being Mrs. Banks,” however, are disposable additions that only force characters to sing unnecessarily. This is especially disappointing when these trifles are misspent on such talented performers as Quast and Prior.

Matthew Bourne’s choreography is (not surprisingly) stunning, and the talented cast is highlighted in a number of dance items, the most impressive of these being the “Jolly Holiday” sequence and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” Both develop differently from the movie and are extended to allow for longer dance breaks/sequences.

The production is visually amazing, and Technical Director Richard Martin and his team are the hidden stars of the show. Characters not only fly (as you would expect), but walk up and across the proscenium arch! Frequent moments of magic and misdirection result in complex and multilayered performances from all characters. The Banks’ house at No. 17 Cherry Tree Lane is not only a multi-level functioning set, but can rotate and fold closed like the children’s dollhouse! The automation in Mary Poppins is truly magical and a delight for the entire audience.

A wonderful tale, told expertly by Cameron Mackintosh and his team, with one of the strongest casts we have seen recently on any Australian stage.

Ian Nisbet

Image: Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. Photographer: Geoff Busby.

Check out our Mary Poppins features

Ian Nisbet's interview with the cast


Mary Poppins Composers singing highlights

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