Theatre Review: Mary Poppins

A magical, heart-warming, nostalgic production that is practically perfect in every way.

A magical, heart-warming, nostalgic production that is practically perfect in every way

Presented by: Disney, Cameron Mackintosh & Michael Cassel Group
Reviewed: 5 July, 2023

After much anticipation, Mary Poppins has finally opened in Adelaide for the first time. There is no doubt about it, this production is practically perfect in every way. Disney has the magical ability to transfix its audiences and transport them into a world where anything can happen — and this production is no exception. Full of heart and joy, Mary Poppins is a must see.

Based on the beloved stories by Australian author P.L. Travers and the original Disney film, the Tony and Olivier award-winning production of Mary Poppins is a theatrical spectacular that has delighted tens of millions of people around the globe. Whether you grew up reading the novels, watching the original movie or have only discovered this whimsical nanny for the first time, Mary Poppins is a high-energy production for all ages. 

Mary Poppins features the beloved Sherman brothers songs we know from the original movie, with additional new songs and arrangements by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. Each number is a show-stopper, superbly executed by the outstanding Australian cast. They are vocally tight, and perform Stephan Mear’s and Geoffrey Garratt’s choreography brilliantly. Music director Geoffrey Castles’ tempos push the larger numbers along, but allow the slower numbers to emotionally sit. Castles conducts an impressive twelve piece orchestra — it’s also great to see so many local Adelaide based musicians listed.

Stefanie Jones is Mary Poppins through and through. Nothing has been overlooked in her performance. From the way Jones holds herself, speech pattern and accent, simple hand flourishes, down to the shift of her eyes towards the audience to highlight a point — nothing has been forgotten. It is practically perfect. Vocally, Jones tackles the Sherman brothers’ score with ease and finesse. With crisp, clear diction, her voice brings hints of Julie Andrews tonal colours. Jones’s portrayal more closely resembles P.L. Travers’ descriptions of the character than that of Julie Andrews, with more authority and a little less sweetness. Holding absolute authority over the chaos of the Banks household, Jones adds a great deal of mystery to the role. She is commanding and holds her own.

Jack Chambers is everything you want to see in Bert. Cheeky, warming, an excellent voice, and boy can he dance. Chambers has excellent story-telling abilities and through the prologue he pulls you right into the world of Mary Poppins and Number 17 Cherry Tree Lane. Like Mary Poppins, the role of Bert is no easy feat. The role constantly pulls the story along, but Chambers handles this role comfortably and leaves the audience cheering for more, especially after the mind boggling staging and choreography in Step In Time. This number alone is worth the price of the ticket. It’s not every day you get to see someone tap dance upside down over the Festival Theatre stage.

In the original Mary Poppins film, the storyline for Mr and Mrs Banks was secondary to the adventures of Mary, Burt and the children. In the stage adaptation, the story is almost more about Mr and Mrs Banks’ journey. Bert and Mary are seen as the puppet masters to help the Banks’ work through their issues. Tom Wren and Lucy Maunder play Mr and Mrs Banks with wonderful conviction. Wren plays Mr Banks’ story arc from uptight, ‘everything must be in its place’ manner through to soft, caring and warm family man perfectly. Maunder’s interpretation of Mrs Banks is one of the best I have seen. She adds such depth to this role and brings out the caring, motherly nature. Maunder’s performance through Being Mrs Banks was heart-wrenching. You could feel her drive and passion for wanting the best for her husband and her children through every work and movement.

The Banks children, played by Sophie Isaac and Reuben Koronczyk on opening night, captured their roles excellently. Their cheek, their love for their parents, and their astonishment at Mary’s magic was reminiscent of the Banks children from the original movie.

The remainder of the cast all deserve to be mentioned by name, but we could be here for a while. They all are wonderful, and work hard to make this show sparkle the way it does. One person, however, who needs her own special mention is the extraordinary Patti Newton, who plays the Bird Woman. Newton’s Feed The Birds duet with Stefanie Jones was emotionally charged. Her performance was a solid reminder why she is a legend of stage and TV, bringing a wonderful warmth to the stage that you were simply drawn to. 

The set design, by Bob Crowley and adaptations by Rosalind Coombes and Matt Kinley, looks like it has magically jumped off the pages of P.L. Travers’s books. It is creative and at times almost becomes a character in itself.  The Banks’ house is an example of this, in the way it unfolds like a page of a book, walls rippling when something magical is about to happen, or flapping curtains to build suspense during more dramatic scenes. The lighting design also breathes life into this production. Hugh Vanstone and Natasha Katz have added their own element of magic to Mary Poppins, with dark silhouettes and moody lighting that instantly snaps into a bright, colourful feast for the eyes – it is stunning. The costume design, also by Crowley, has recreated elements of the original Mary Poppins film superbly, but also added some exquisite items to give this production a fresh look and feel.

Mary Poppins is a visual and aural feast for audiences of all ages. Words cannot begin to describe the magical treat that is this production. It is a wonderful celebration of this beloved series of stories and movies. It will leave you feeling warm during our cold winter. Spit spot, Adelaide — you only have until August 27 to see this charming, magical production.

Reviewed by Ben Stefanoff

Photo credit: Daniel Boud

Venue: Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre
Season: July 1 – August 27
Duration: 2 hours and 50 minutes
Premium: from $129.50, A Reserve: from $109.90, B Reserve: from $99.90, C Reserve: from $89.90, D Reserve: from $59.90

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