Review by Kellie Warner
In Brisbane last Thursday night, a strange weather anomaly occurred. So blustering were the winds that people were warned they should be careful with their umbrellas lest they fly off into the sky. Though there was one woman who was perfectly happy to sail through the clouds to land on the stage at QPAC for the opening night of Mary Poppins. Considering the strong gusts, her arrival proved faultless and practically perfect in every way.
After a successful Sydney season, Mary Poppins was back in Brisbane and the audience hummed with anticipation waiting for that curtain to rise. Would the special effects work? Will we be transported to the magical world of the Mary Poppins we all know and love?
The answer to those questions was a resounding yes. The curtain lifted and the dark smog of Victorian London hung over Cherry Tree Lane, an ominous few seconds, until Bert appears with his cheeky grin and breaks into “CHIM CHIM CHER-EE” and a layer of total enhancement descends over the audience.
It was so spectacular that it is difficult to know where to start. But no production of a show that has the aim to thoroughly enchant is anything without the sets being just right. This production gets everything just right. A huge kudos to Rosalind Coombes and Matt Kinley and their team for the set design adaptation. I imagine the icon himself, Bob Crowley had his hand in here too.
The sets changes are done easily and swiftly and each is a pure delight that harmonising with each scene perfectly. Some sets, such as the bleak park before Mary transforms it and the stuffy black and white Bank are pure works of art in themselves. It is a good thing the performances are so incredible, or I might have stared at the gorgeous backdrops. There was an attention to detail in each set that I have rarely seen in any production. They were all true wonders.
This perfection, and attention to detail was essential for Mary to be able to use her magic to an often-astounded Jane and Michael Banks, as well as the audience. Though Bert seemed to take them in his stride.
Introducing herself while singing the catchy and rather vain tune, “PRACTICALLY PERFECT,” Mary dashes about the idyllic children’s bedroom pulling items out of her trusty, colurful carpet bag. A full hat stand appears, a lamp, a mirror the perfect size for just that spot on the wall, and a teapot and dainty teacup hanging in midair all as she belts out how incredibly amazing she is, while not really explaining who she is. But then again Mary does make one thing quite clear which is that she never explains anything!
The children are instantly charmed, and the gasps of the audience must have warmed the hearts of the souls who used feats of engineering I simply cannot fathom which permit Mary to pull full size items seemingly from nowhere.
Later when the Banks children show their rather horrid side in the kitchen at No.17 Cherry Tree Lane, once again Mary cleans the mess using her wizardry, including huffing at the kitchen table to fix itself, A scene that was astounding and utterly mesmerizing. The slightly bumbling but loveable servant, Robertson Ay gives Gareth Isaac the perfect audition as a magician as he whisks off a tea towel to reveal a multitiered cake perfectly iced where one round uniced cake had been before. No kitchen has ever given so much pleasure, never mind a double Miele oven!
So enamored were the audience with the magic of the show that when there was a technical hitch that stopped the show for approximately 5-10 minutes, they applauded. We all applauded when the show was paused. The chatter echoing off the walls of the theatre explained the happiness. No waiting until the interval to talk about the absolute wonder we were all witnessing. I struck up a conversation with the lady beside me, as she had barely kept still so far, such was her glee. She put it into words better than I could. “These effects are amazing,” she said.” In movies they have months and computers, this is harder and so much better!”
There is so much to the story of Mary Poppins. Ultimately it is about family and how important that is. Mary has lessons for the entire Banks family and changes each in ways that make them better people. Like most life lessons, they are best learned through fun and experience rather than being forced, which is why Mary Poppins is so beloved.
Whoever assumes the role of the iconic Mary Poppins has rather large, albeit dainty and perfectly pointed boots to fill. For many people Julie Andrews is Mary Poppins and that is that. So, each performer that takes on the role must feel that weight. Yet so many have proved just as practically perfect as the great lady herself.
Stefanie Jones takes the role of Mary Poppins and makes it her own. I looked at her every time she stood on stage and not once did her pose faulter. She hit every note with aplomb and made every impossible trick look easy. We have a new star that has hit the heights of Andrews right here in our midst. She is a Brisbane girl, and she made us all oh so proud.
It helped that every outfit was colourful and perfectly fitted. In fact, the costumes rivalled any musical I have ever seen. So elaborate were some of the outfits that I could barely imagine the reams of fabric that must have been required.
One of my favourite scenes was when Mary transforms the dreary, bleak park with its foreboding iron gates into a wonderland of flowers and colour. Bert’s painting being the only thing of colour in the dark place that depresses Michael and Jane, so Mary shows them why Bert painted the park as he did. He was already acquainted with Mary Poppins after all.
Then suddenly the costumes seemed to come to life. The lighting people, led by lighting designer, Hugh Vanstone, the director and the always perfect scenic and costume designer, Bob Crowley must have had one hell of a meeting because never have I seen pink quite so pink, nor orange quite so ornage. The colours, the multiple shades all clashing yet somehow delightful just took my breath away. The song they all sang, (and what an ensemble cast we have here,) “JOLLY HOLIDAY,” was the perfect choice.
Ask most people to choose and favourite song and you will more than likely get one of two answers, “SUPERCALIFRAGILISTICEXPIALODOCIOUS,” or “A SPOONFUL OF SUGAR.” Neither disappointed and inserting the craziness of, (oh dear must I type it out again?) “SUPERCALIFRAGILISTICEXPIALODOCIOUS” to a visit to the shop that sells sweets and conversations owned by the ageless and over-the-top Mrs. Corry was just perfect.
But how many of us find ourselves humming, “Tuppence a bag” the day after hearing it? It’s magic, you know. Such a simple song but it gets right into our feels, even without us noticing, just as Mr. Banks wonders why he is suddenly basing decisions on his heart and not his head.
In fact, take the wonder, vivid colour and sheer magic aside and Bird Woman has possibly one of the most important roles in Mary Poppins. Her lessons are of such importance she doesn’t need to speak a word other than sing the classic song, “FEED THE BIRDS.”
For the Brisbane season, Bird Woman is played by entertainment icon, Patti Newton. When she first appears on stage and starts singing, the first few words are drowned out by the feverish applause of the audience.
There is so much to love in this production. The only way I could fault it was to over analyse the plot and that was just stuff and nonsense. It was perfectly perfect in every way, sorry I just had to use the phrase again.
Chelsea Plumley as the ‘holy terror’ nanny, Miss Andrew who is the antithesis of everything Mary Poppins stands for, hams it up perfectly, managing to terrify and entertain in equal measure. The nanny face-off was quite the spectacle to behold. Mary celebrates her victory by sliding up the banister. I don’t know how they did it, but they knew they had to include it and it was perfect.
Lucy Maunder is the consummate Winifred Banks and gifts us with so many facial expressions that wives and mothers instantly understand.
Known for winning Season One of ‘So You Think You Can Dance,’ and having displayed those incredible dance skills on-stage previously in musicals including Singin’ in the Rain, Jack Chambers as Bert is an instant hit. The audience fell in love with the charming, confident chimney sweep, soot covered clothes and face notwithstanding.
In his musical theatre debut, Tom Wren is perfect as the stoic, rigid George Banks and exhibits the development of the character through his posture and facial expression just as his voice softens.
The children, the dear children, who were always good children, as Bert points out more than once learn so very much about love and acceptance. The child actors are a delight. There are four different children that will alternate for each role. Opening night featured Dorothea Seierup as Jane and Fraser Goodreid as Michael.
Goodreid is especially funny, delivering his lines with perfect comic timing. Hannah Waterman as Mrs. Brill is absolutely hilarious. Breaking the silence after the priceless vase is shattered by exclaiming ‘Oh! The Air loooom,” in perfect cockney had the audience in stitches.
The ensemble is incredibly adaptable in their array of roles. The tap-dancing chimney sweeps were especially fantastic. It would be difficult to out-dance Chambers, who moves through every song with skill and high energy, but some of them nearly manage it. Quite a few budding Fred Astaire’s in that ensemble cast.
Having this cast, with Chambers among them, was the perfect opportunity for the choreographers, Sir Matthew Bourne (who also co-directed) and Stephen Mear CBE to simply go for it. At times the dancing, perfectly in time and jumps that appeared to reach the ceiling was as magical as Mary herself.
The songs would be nothing without the orchestra, and I often forgot they were there. I mean this as the greatest compliment, since they were just always perfectly in sync.
I think I mentioned the term dream team earlier and I stand by it. This was a coming together of every aspect that is required to make a musical truly outstanding. Everyone involved played their part perfectly and it showed.
This production will be an absolute delight to all who see it. I imagine plenty of people will go more than once. The singing and dancing were tantalizing to watch. The costumes are superb, and the sets should be displayed in a gallery after the production is over. Mary Poppins is a feast for the eyes and the enchanted audiences shall dine on this feast with full fervor.
This is truly a show not to be missed, although I appreciate that those words are bandied about a lot. In this case I mean them 100-fold. Mary Poppins is as enchanting a story as it ever has been, performed by talented entertainers who give it everything they have. There is no one highlight, but rather a serious of moments that surprise and delight the utterly bewitched audience.
I was going to mention the finale that had the audience on their feet, cheering so loudly it must have been heard miles away. But instead, I will allow you to experience that surprise yourself. It is what Mary Poppins would want.
Mary Poppins is playing at QPAC in Brisbane
A musical based on the stories of P.L Travers and the Walt Disney film.
Original music and lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman.
Book by Julian Fellowes.
New songs and additional music by George stiles and Anthony Drewe.
Co-created by Cameron Mackintosh
Produced for Disney Theatrical Productions by Thomas Schumacher
Presented by Cameron Mackintosh, The Walt Disney Company Australia and New Zealand, and Michael Cassel Group.
Performances commence Saturday 22 October, 2022 with tickets through to Sunday 1 January, 2023 now available via marypoppinsmusical.com.au/tickets.