Disney and Cameron Mackintosh. Adelaide Festival Theatre. 5 Jul 2023
The whimsical adventures of that magical nanny, Mary Poppins, have been capturing the imaginations of both children and adults alike since PL Travers penned those wonderful stories in 1934. The subsequent release in 1964 of the Robert Stevenson film produced by Walt Disney, and starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, took it to a whole new level. No less than 13 Academy Award nominations and Disney’s highest grossing film ever!
A source of nostalgia for many, the memorable songs, enchanting characters, and the heartfelt messages resonate deeply with those who were raised on the story. It is a testament to its timeless appeal that generations have embraced and passed down the love for this extraordinary tale, including Cameron Mackintosh who, along with book by Julian Fellowes and score by Richard M Sherman and Robert B Sherman, adapted it into a stage musical.
The Adelaide Festival Theatre explodes into life as Mary Poppins takes centre stage. From the moment Stefanie Jones descends from the heavens with her iconic umbrella, it is clear she was born to portray the beloved nanny. Jones effortlessly embodies the essence of Mary Poppins, blending her prim demeanour with a touch of mischievousness; her stunning voice soaring through the theatre, enchanting everyone in the near capacity opening night audience. Her performance is indeed practically perfect in every way!
In the charismatic role of Bert, Jack Chambers is an absolute revelation and proves a force to be reckoned with. Chambers’ performance is truly captivating. Not only does he possess a remarkable singing voice, but his tap-dancing skills are awe-inspiring. Chambers’ feet create a symphony of rhythm as he effortlessly glides around the stage during Step In Time. Every step, every leap, every intricate tap sequence is executed with breathtaking precision. Bravo!
However, the brilliance of this production is not limited to its leads. The entire ensemble cast shines brightly, each member contributing their unique talents to create a cohesive and memorable performance. Patti Newton’s Bird Woman provides a wonderfully poignant reminder of the importance of love and compassion for all living things, the hauntingly beautiful ballad Feed The Birds swelling in our hearts when Jones joins with Newton in the duet.
Tom Wren and Lucy Maunder as George and Winifred Banks perhaps don’t get the time to truly develop their character’s arcs as the contrasting forces of tradition and change, however their performances are still captivating to watch. Wren perhaps has the biggest character arc in the show and the transformation from rigidity to compassion is truly affecting.
One may be forgiven for a double take when Helen Walsh hits the stage as Mrs Brill, her performance combining all of the mannerisms of both Ellen and Mrs Brill in the Disney film version. The character Robertson Ay, plucked from the books but who did not appear in the film, is portrayed spectacularly by Gareth Isaac. Robertson doesn’t get a lot of opportunities to sing, but when Isaac’s opportunity comes his operatic tones blow the roof off the theatre! The cast of kids includes four young actors and actresses playing Michael and Jane Banks, each sharing the role across the season.
Surrounding these spectacular performances is a true work of art in the set and lighting design by Bob Crowley, Hugh Vanstone, and Natasha Katz. Reminiscent of a whimsical children's pop-up book at times the set dances across and around the stage in perfect harmony with Matthew Bourne and Stephen Mear’s spectacular choreography. Every scene is a visual feast for the eyes, with intricate details and vibrant colours that transport the audience to the heart of the story. The seamless transitions between locations are a testament to the creativity and skill of the production team.
The sound, by designer Paul Gatehouse, has wonderful dynamics and builds to exhilarating crescendos throughout the performance and the orchestra delivers a flawless accompaniment, bringing the iconic songs like Jolly Holiday and Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious to life.
Mary Poppins is an absolute triumph. It is selling well, so book early to avoid disappointment.
When: 5 to 27 Aug
Where: Adelaide Festival Theatre