Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne
Thoroughly disproving the law of diminishing returns, Mary Poppins soars again as the current Australian revival tour brings everyone’s favourite nanny back to her spiritual home at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne.
While the original season of Mary Poppins stood in the shadow of the classic 1964 movie, the stage musical now stands proudly as a theatrical treasure in its own right. Co-created by Cameron Mackintosh, the 2004 musical blends the original Sherman Brothers songs with new songs and additional music and lyrics from George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, also boasting a book by Julian Fellowes, direction by Richard Eyre and Matthew Bourne, and choreography by Bourne and Stephen Mear.
Arguably the most artful Disney screen-to-stage musical this side of The Lion King, the super slick production currently benefits from the additional polish and shine that came as part of the 2019 London revival.
William David Brohn’s orchestrations have extra snap and fizz, richly brought to life by musical director Geoffrey Castles. Illusionists Paul Kieve and Jim Steinmeyer now have even more magic tricks up their sleeves. While not presented on the original scale seen in London, Bob Crowley’s storybook scenery remains perfectly charming, and his cavalcade of costumes are a lustrous attraction in their own right. The addition of an oversized “Punch” puppet in act one finale ‘Playing the Game’ brings an extra touch of spectacle.
Directing this Australian tour, James Powell builds confidently upon the abundant character and heart of Eyre’s original direction, deftly bringing out fresh humour and neatly nuanced expression from the supremely talented cast. The emotional arc, centred upon the very necessary thawing of Mr Banks, is as affectingly heartwarming as it is ever timely.
Richard Jones expertly recreates the choreography of Mear and Bourne, delivering boffo production numbers that truly bring down the house. ‘Jolly Holiday’ is a technicolor dream to rival Dorothy’s arrival in Oz. ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ is a riot of precise, rapid fire movement. Tap extravaganza ‘Step in Time’ completely stops the show in act two.
Practically perfect, Stefanie Jones is a marvellous Mary, dispensing wit and wisdom with a deliciously plummy vocal tone that melts into a golden soprano in song. An elegant dancer to boot, Jones truly makes the role her own in a warmly memorable performance.
A rascally twinkle in his eye, Jack Chambers brings effortless charm to earthy everyman Bert. A crisply polished dancer, Chambers’ tap solos in ‘Step in Time’ are quite literally jaw-dropping.
Playing the rare musical couple that are simply best friends, Jones and Chambers enjoy a relaxed chemistry stemming from the perfect match of the their triple threat skills, which each utilises in gently underplayed style.
Expertly taking Mr Banks from emotionally stilted patriarch to warmly loving father and husband, Tom Wren provides dramatic heft to neatly balance and ground the show’s fantastical elements. Lucy Maunder is a lovely Mrs Banks, and although her dialogue includes a few too many Australian vowels, the ways in which she highlights the theatricality of the former stage performer make for many a delightful moment.
Hannah Waterman appears born to play poor old Mrs Brill, scoring an abundance of hearty laughs (more than this reviewer has ever seen in this plum role). As hapless houseboy Robertson Ay, Gareth Isaac delivers physical comedy with flair.
Australia’s leading lady Marina Prior is luxury casting as Bird Woman, singing classic lullaby “Feed the Birds” with tender sweetness. A gifted comic actress, Prior tears up the stage as nasty nanny Miss Andrew in a terrific pair of act two scenes.
Robert Grubb brings experienced presence to Admiral Boom and Chairman of the Bank. Lisa Sontag is a delightful scene partner for Grubb as indulgent pet parent Miss Lark.
On opening night, Harriet Alder played Jane Banks with a well-judged mix of petulance and pleasantness. Straight-faced delivery and vocal precision from Sebastian Sero brought out the cheeky boyish humour of Michael Banks.
Special mention to Stephen Anderson who contrasted noble Northbrook with the delightfully frazzled Park Keeper.
Blue chip family entertainment, Mary Poppins is must-see musical theatre magic.
Mary Poppins plays at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne. For tickets, click here.
Mary Poppins plays at Festival Theatre, Adelaide. To join the waitlist, click here.
Photos: Daniel Boud