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Mary Poppins

DISNEY and CAMERON MACKINTOSH present MARY POPPINS, based on the stories of P.L.Travers and the Walt Disney Film at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne.

The Mary Poppins film was made in 1964.It appeared at the cusp of my entering the bigger world of university, when I became a super sophisticate (Oh, yeah- embarrassing to recall! Forgive me, friends?)

The school holidays of my earlier life were filled with, usually, two movie going experiences: the latest Jerry Lewis film (CINDERFELLA, lives excruciatingly in my memory bank) and the Walt Disney latest: OLD YELLER and THE SLEEPING BEAUTY, two of my fondest memories. Although, any starring Hayley Mills: POLLYANNA, THE PARENT TRAP and a personal favourite THE MOON SPINNERS were also gratifyingly embraced. That Julie Andrews was in THE SOUND OF MUSIC, I saw 16 times at the Mayfair Cinema in Castlereagh Street, and the star of MARY POPPINS, was the only reason that I condescended to see, out of my burgeoning sophistication, this Disney film. I went by myself and never ever told any of my fellow students – my embarrassing secret adventure.

The mix of live action and animation was fairly novel and relatively, a marvel, I remember. I remember judging the songs by the Sherman Brothers as OK Not as good as Rogers and Hammerstein, of course. FEED THE BIRDS, the best; CHIM CHIM CHER-EE, catchy; SUPERCALIFRAGILISTICEXPIIALIDOCIOUS, fun but stupid! Julie Andrews was good, but not as good as she was as Maria in THE SOUND OF MUSIC. Dick Van Dyke just way too over the top and jolly – unbelievable.

So, going to the theatre to see the stage version was going to be a test of my pretended lack of enthusiasm for musical theatre. It cost $132.00. I was determined that I would give it a fair go. J row centre, aisle seat. Good. But it was almost the cost of a ticket to THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO down in the Melbourne Arts Centre. And that production is (was) great .A considered toss up.

This show has all the Disney efficiency (Director, Richard Eyre) and whizz-bangery (Scenic and Costume Design – the touring production, adapted from the original, Bob Crowley) that you could desire. And , true to it’s roots, it is an old fashioned musical with lots of Book (Julian Fellowes), Songs and Music (Original Music and Lyrics by Robert M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman. New Songs and Additional Music and Lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe) and best of all, lots and lots of dancing (Choreography by Matthew Bourne).

The cleanliness of the mechanisms of the design and the precision of the dancing, singing and acting delivers a kind of coolness to the presentation. That the character of Mary Poppins (Verity Hunt-Ballard) in this rendition of the P.L. Travers stories leans more to the original conception of a colder and slightly intimidating figure, rather than the strict but ‘twinkling’ governess of Ms Andrews in the movie, also keeps one at an empathetic distance. (Ms Hunt-Ballard must long to smile – in fact, when she does at last, and I mean almost at last, it is worth the reservation, just). Although I do prefer the Julie Andrews presence of wickedness and sense of fun-(The best thing about the ill fated musical film, STAR, is Ms Andrews sense of play in the great stagings of the musical numbers).

It took me right up to the middle of the second half and the show stopping dancing of the STEP IN TIME interlude to completely surrender and go: “OK, this is good”. By the end I thought, “This is well worth the money spent”. I was happy and added MARY POPPINS to my pleasant memories of theatre going beside the alternative choice of the night: Opera Australia and Neil Armfield’s sublime production of THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO.

I thought that Matt Lee as Bert was terrific, especially when he was dancing – he does a lot of it- marginally less terrific when he was singing and much less so when he was performing as an actor- not very charming or winning except in a kind of calculated way, too much technique, not enough truthful heart- a kind of out of body experience. Dick van Dyke, then, is a star and from memory, despite his cockney approximation, better. I know comparisons are odious but…$132.00 is $132.00.

On the night I saw it Philip Quast as Mr Banks, did not appear to be fully present and a trifle effortful in everything but his usual good singing qualities, it was a bit throw away in action. Also Marina Prior as Mrs Banks appeared to be distracted and not fully happy in her characterisation or performance.

I missed the clever and subtle work that David Tomlinson delivered in the film to Mr Banks- he had a journey of growth as the neglectful but dutiful Edwardian father that Mr Quast never seemed to fully demarcate. Mr Quast began Mr Banks flustered and became only slightly discombobulated – shirt hanging out of his trousers – before finding his ‘Disney’ way to warm hearted father figure. The story telling by Mr Quast appears,relatively, shallow in explication.

Similarly, I missed the political spikiness of the Edwardian suffragette that Glynis Johns enthusiased for us in the film. Ms Prior’s character is a more harassed and incompetent housewife of the old fashioned image of helpless woman kind – a strand of her hair astrew to iconise her state of flusteredness – a kind of political throwback. Not entirely Ms Prior’s fault as the new songs and maybe the changes in the writing may have some basis for the disappointment in the performance. I did miss the song SISTER SUFFRAGETTES, mightily.

On the other hand, the work by Sally-Anne Upton (Mrs Brill) and Christopher Rickerby (Robertson Ay), although of a ‘classic’ musical theatre genre, were energised and fun -they lifted the ‘game’ of the performance with limited ‘stock’ character types, with all of their limited opportunities with real imagined invention.

However, the beautiful energy and brio of Judi Connelli as Miss Andrew, the wicked bully governess, a new character to the story, was best of all. Finely drawn characteristics tumble across her face and body almost word by word. It is so detailed and accurate that Ms Connelli’s Miss Andrew deserves, perhaps, a musical all of her own – like the good and bad sisters in WICKED finally were given, escaping from under Dorothy and her friends shadow in THE WIZARD OF OZ. Mr Schwartz take note. Here is musical theatre acting that sets a benchmark of commitment to her paying audience.

The children were terrific. I think they were, at my performance, Zoe Gousmett and especially pleasing, Kade Hughes.

So, a good time eventuates by the end of the show. Coolness evaporates into wonder as Mary exits magically across and over the audience. “AWESOME”, some young soul gulped beside me, and at almost two and three quarter hours, good value for money, I guarantee. My secret adolescent adventure relived, but live on stage.


2 replies to “Mary Poppins”

  1. Kevin, I'm glad I'm not the only one with a secret love of Mary Poppins. I saw this shortly after it opened in London in 2005 and was entirely entranced by the entire production. I went so far as to even exclaim it as being better than the film. It was $120 (5 years ago)well spent. Not only were the performances magic but I thought the whole staging of it was superb – the multi-level set was very clever. I still occasionally privately listen to the soundtrack. I had been hesitant in going to see it again in Australia as I was afraid, as is often the case with touring productions, that it wouldn't have quite the same "whizz-bangery" as the original West End production. However I think next year when it comes to Sydney I'll use the excuse of taking my parents to see it as a means to treating my own secret inner love of this SUPERCALCALIFRAGILISTICEXPIALIDOCIOUS show. And that "AWESOME" moment at the end was exactly what I thought to myself as a couple of joyous tears welled in my eyes.

  2. I was happy and added MARY POPPINS to my pleasant memories of theatre going beside the alternative choice of the night: Opera Australia and Neil Armfield's sublime production of THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO.Great stuff!

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