When the stage adaptation of Mary Poppins first arrived in Australia in 2010, it garnered critical acclaim and played sell out seasons across the country. Nominated for 12 Helpmann Awards, the show ultimately won eight, including the top prize for Best Musical.
Mary Poppins officially landed at Sydney’s Lyric Theatre last week in a production bound to delight audiences of all ages just as it did when the enigmatic and magical nanny first took flight at Melbourne’s Her Majesty’s Theatre in 2010. Co-produced by Disney and Cameron Mackintosh in association with Michael Cassel Group, the stage musical is based on the revered 1964 film, adapted from the books of Australian-British writer P.L. Travers.
Directed in Australia by James Powell, Mary Poppins whisks audiences away to Edwardian London and into the home of the Banks family. The children of the household, Jane and Michael (played on opening night by Chloe Delle-Vedove and Will Steiner), have driven their latest minder, Katie Nanna (Hollie James) to her wits’ end. The good news is that the practically perfect Mary Poppins (Stefanie Jones) has arrived, with her sights set on ending the dysfunction in the Banks’ home and sharing a few important life lessons with each of its occupants along the way.
For those who grew up with the film, Mary Poppins is gratifyingly nostalgic, but will also introduce you to new songs by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe (which sit remarkably well beside the Sherman brothers’ iconic music), and a number of characters absent from Poppins’ big screen outing. But even for those who’ve never had ‘supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ as part of their vocabulary, this production offers a beautifully crafted and wonderfully whimsical theatrical experience.
Multi-award-winner Bob Crowley was tasked with both the scenic and costume design for this show, and he’s delivered in spades on both fronts. His design elements are sumptuous but also palpably capture the magic injected into an otherwise ordinary world when the extraordinary nanny lands in Cherry Tree Lane. Choosing a highlight is difficult; the aptly cartoonish visuals of “Jolly Holiday” certainly leave their mark, while the celestial-themed staging for ‘Anything can happen’ late in the show also impresses.
But like any musical, Poppins can’t truly fly without the support of a solid cast, and the talented group assembled for this production is absolutely first class. In the title role, Jones is outstanding. Her Poppins is impeccably poised and wryly witty, and is a character that is at once instantly recognisable and distinctly marked with her own stamp. It’s precisely how it should be done. Vocally, her soprano is as on point as her acting, ensuring audience is treated to sweet and satisfying renditions of each of Poppins’ numbers.
Picking up the chimney brush in this production, Jack Chambers similarly fits the role of Bert like a glove. He’s instantly engaging, his energy never wavers, and he demonstrates exceptional skill as a dancer. To top it off, he has much more luck with the cockney accent than Dick Van Dyke did in the film version.
Tom Wren plays patriarch George Banks and convinces as the matter-of-fact taskmaster while also evoking our sympathy, as he begins to reflect on exactly what he’s imparting to his children. As Winifred Banks, Lucy Maunder is excellent as the loving mother determined to live up to her husband’s Edwardian expectations. As housekeeper Mrs Brill, Hannah Waterman is another strong player, showing off terrific comedic timing, while Chelsea Plumley’s powerful voice makes her a perfect choice for Mr Banks’ tyrannical childhood nanny, Miss Andrew. Meanwhile, stage legend Nancye Hayes makes a relatively brief but memorable appearance as the Bird Woman, and both Delle-Vedove and Steiner are terrific in portraying the Banks children.
The principal cast is backed by a supremely talented ensemble, adeptly singing and showcasing Matthew Bourne’s and Stephen Mear’s superb choreography (recreated for the Australian production by Richard Jones). And when it comes to the live music, Geoffrey Castles leads a sizeable orchestra in an excellent, tight reproduction of the score.
Mary Poppins offers children a spectacular introduction to live musical theatre but also affords older audiences a chance to relish cherished memories of their own childhoods. In short, this production is well worth a trip to the theatre for anyone interested in experiencing a little magic.
Review by Tim Garratt
Photo credit: Daniel Boud
Mary Poppins plays at the Sydney Lyric Theatre through to September 4, 2022.
Tickets are available through Ticketmaster.