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Review: Mary Poppins

Samantha Lee
Samantha Lee

For God’s sake go and see this production.

That is all.

No, just kidding. It’s no secret I’m a musical geek so I’m predisposed by nature to liking anything that uses a song as a plot device to move the story forward or underline a character’s emotions in a theatre production.

But damn it, even if you break out in hives at the mere mention of anything to do with magic, have a medium to severe umbrella phobia  or have seriously traumatic memories from your personal Nanny or Au Pair experience when you were a child, this production is not one to miss.

If you’ve been living under a rock since advertising for Mary Poppins started – this Cameron Mackintosh produced and co-created musical is housed in The Civic, Auckland until mid-December. It’s based on the books by P.L Travers and the 1964 Disney film starring Julie Andrews.

If you’re expecting it to follow the movie storyline exactly you won’t get your wish, but you get all the favourites from the movie including my favourite - Chim Chim Cher-ee. There are fantastic new songs too, including Brimstone and Treacle which among its many good points has a sing-off between Miss Andrew and Mary Poppins.

I’m going to limit the spoilers in this review as I truly believe the element of surprise will enhance the performance for anyone going to watch it. Suffice to say – if you want magic, you’ll get it.

Rachel Wallace as Mary Poppins just blew me away. She fully embodies the character of Mary Poppins and is a compelling combination of stern and playful, quirky and kind. The character by nature is mysterious and you don’t get to figure out what she’s thinking at any given moment. The brief moments when you get to see the emotion underneath are brilliantly executed by Wallace and added a depth to the production that I didn’t expect (more on this below.)

I can’t stress enough how difficult this role must be - there are many intricate set changes and costume changes to deal with, and a massive moment somewhere in the production that I won’t spoil but let me be very clear: Wallace and her understudies must have nerves of steel on top of everything else.

There are also lots of instances of “magic” to pull off and intricate dance routines. Kudos should be given as Wallace played opening night with a sprained ankle –given the sheer physicality of the role to play this without flaw is impressive given I’d be calling for smelling salts and a week off. To sing so wonderfully as well - Wallace and the cast fully deserved their standing ovation on opening night.

Matt Lee as Bert is fantastic as well. The chemistry between Bert and Mary is very clear and he has the audience cracking up at regular intervals during the night with quips and jokes. Hats off to Lee for his dancing – he is incredibly talented and leads some truly marvellous dance routines-including an upside down one!

The Banks Family – Simon Burke and Pippa Grandison as Mr and Mrs Banks, and Jane and Michael (there are four pairs of children cast as the Banks’ kids) are definitely true to the movie and the books. The kids who play Jane and Michael Banks are excellent– they’re onstage almost the whole performance and are by turns hilarious and tug at the heartstrings.

Burke as George Banks is just stunning - all of the grown-ups in the audience will relate to him. He delivers a perfectly poised performance and again lent an emotional depth that was one of the highlights of the night for me.

Grandison as Winifred Banks was hilarious – she plays off Burke very well and also has some very funny moments on her own. I’m so glad she got her own song (Being Mrs Banks) both to show a side of her character you don’t see in the movie and because Grandison has an amazing voice.

This is definitely a performance to take your kids to – they’ll be blown away by the “magic” that crops up practically every two minutes (the “magic bag” from the movie makes an appearance, as does the umbrella, although sadly it does not talk.) Adults will enjoy this just as much, and I guarantee that you will have moments where you won’t be able to decide where to look, so talented are the dancers and so complex the choreography. You’ll possibly also go home and Google how to say Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious backwards (again, hats off to Wallace for pulling that off at least twice.)

I could go on far too long about what a great performance this is. The amount of detail that has gone into this production is huge– from music to costume design, to lighting to set design to programmes to advertising – no stone is left unturned. I was expecting a polished spectacle – something that a lot of money had been poured into and might be jaw-droppingly amazing (and it was) – might also lack a bit of heart.

Not so, and this is entirely due to the performance of the core cast, who bring that extra something which turns it from a flashy spectacle into a musical which I wholeheartedly recommend you see. Productions of this calibre don’t come to New Zealand every day – this is one I will not hesitate to go again to.

Don’t miss out.

What: Mary Poppins The Musical

When: On now for a limited season.

Where: The Civic, Auckland

TicketsThe Edge

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