Monday, May 23, 2011

Review: Mary Poppins the musical in Sydney- magical and fun to boot

AS the audience packed into the Capitol Theatre to see Mary Poppins last night (Sunday 22 May) there was an excited buzz swarming around both children and adults alike.

Of those that I spoke to, women gushed over how they had grown up with the Disney film (based on the stories of Australia's own P.L. Travers) and were excited to re-visit that moment of their childhood. The children simply couldn't wait for the spectacle to begin and milled around the front of the stage to look into the orchestra pit covered by a semi-translucent black cloth.

Part of the joy of seeing live theatre is the sense of community and solidarity you feel with the hundreds of people who have chosen to switch off their televisions for one night and get dressed up for a few hours of live entertainment. Most people gathered with their family or friends have the biggest smiles written on their faces as they anticipate what lies behind the large stage curtain.

The audience weren't disappointed.

From the first scene, an unmistakable energy and fast pace was set as the cast zipped through the show, from big number to big number.

There is so much to entertain and delight in this show. From the characterisation of 'practically perfect' nanny, Mary Poppins, who is playful and witty yet maintains a (dare I say it) darker, more mysterious charm, to the bright and bubbly Bert who melts the audience's hearts with his cheeky smiles and sprightly jigs.

Both Verity Hunt-Ballard as the leading lady and Matt Lee as lovable Bert do a fantastic job, each serving their characters very well while at the same time adding a spice of their own personalities to the mix. I particularly enjoyed Hunt-Ballard's 'Mary Poppins' voice which had a more nasal and twangy sound that gave Poppins a bit more edge, as well as the unmistakable dancing talents of Lee whose tapping is a joy to watch. Veteran performers Marina Prior, Phillip Quast, Judi Connelli and Debra Byrne also head up a fine supporting cast.

Classic numbers like "Jolly Holiday," "A Spoonful of Sugar," "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," and "Step in Time" all packed a punch and got the feet tapping with their lively beats. New songs such as "Practically Perfect," "Brimstone and Treacle" and "Anything Can Happen" composed specially for the musical are all fabulous additions which fit seamlessly into the show and rival the above ensemble numbers for best tune.

Favourites for me were "Jolly Holiday," which launches the audience out of the stale and dull world of the Banks family into the imaginary world of heightened colour that Mary Poppins adventures in and out of throughout the show.

"Step in Time" was also visually spectacular, with Lee literally climbing the walls and tapping on the roof of the theatre as one of the many tricks the production has in store. The number is especially captivating due to its tempo changes that slowly draw the audience into the world of the chimney sweeps on the rooftops of London and then quickly blast them into the no longer peaceful but exciting world above with snappy, high-energy dance routines.

"Anything Can Happen" ends the show on a wonderful, magical note, with Mary Poppins flying out into the audience. Not only does the song deliver a heart-warming message, but the stage craft of its delivery quite literally gives you shivers. The moment Hunt-Ballard took off from the stage and flew right above my head while looking down and smiling to the audience with Poppins' trademark elegance and poise will stay with me for a long time. It crystalised for me what is so special and enlivening about musical theatre- that no matter your troubles of the day or worries over what is to come, in the almost three hours at the theatre, you can leave them behind and engulf yourself in an imaginary world filled with so much pure joy and happiness.

The yet unspoken hero of the show is the first class staging, lighting and sound design, costuming, and special effects. The production is a visual feast, but it goes one step further with its clever set design. Most enchanting is the large dolls house that literally opens out to be the Banks' home, within which holds many tricks. From a kitchen that can in one moment almost completely fall apart to then be re-assembled without the human hand moments later in "A Spoonful of Sugar," to the bottomless pit of Mary Poppins' bag in "Practically Perfect," there are many 'wow' moments. Even sitting in the front row it was hard to pick out all the secrets behind the tricks.

Mary Poppins in many ways epitomises what musical theatre is about- a big heart. The show holds appeal to all ages not only because of its didactic storytelling and memorable showtunes, but because no matter how old we get, I think we can always find the child within us that revels in bright, beautiful colours, magic tricks and mystery. Mary Poppins is all those things, and is totally fun to boot.

The show is testament to the top-notch productions Sydney and Australia are capable of putting on. We know how to entertain audiences and put 'bums on seats,' and we have loads of talented people who a brimming with energy to do it, so here is to the long and healthy life of musical theatre in Australia. Hip, hip hooray!

1 comment:

lifeafterfive* said...

I saw this the other day and 100% agree with your comments - it was absolutely magical!