Friday, 30 January 2009

Mary Poppins - Manchester Palace Theatre

Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers
Original Music & Lyrics: The Sherman Brothers
New Songs & Lyrics: Stiles & Drewe

Director: Richard Eyre
Choreographer: Matthew Bourne

Reviewer: Gemma Longfellow

As a collaboration by Thomas Schumacher
of Disney (The Lion King, Aida, Tarzan) and Cameron Mackintosh (Cats, Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera) I expected a big production full of thrills and magic from Mary Poppins at the Palace Theatre. I was not wrong. The show was fantastic.

The musical was a well-balanced blend of the classic 1964 Disney musical film and
P. L. Travers’ novel. It has been very well created with most of the original, classic songs and scenes included, which allow the audience to connect and sing along, whilst introducing newly emphasised storylines and numbers that are unique to the production. These were well received if the audiences’ involved hand clapping and rapturous applause are anything to go by.

The plot follows the Banks family as they are visited by the mysterious and magical nanny, Mary Poppins. I was pleasantly surprised that there was some depth to the narrative, exploring themes of broken family life, the Victorian image of ’the perfect family’ and all that is ‘proper’, and the importance of childhood fun. These were dotted among moments of sheer fun, just for the sake of it.

The direction and
production of the show was excellent. The cast were sensitively and creatively used on stage to effectively establish different settings. The bustling, busy Victorian city of London was portrayed well with period props and costumes. I especially enjoyed Bob Crowley’s use of colour in costumes, props and set to forge the distinction between the imaginary adventure world of Mary Poppins, and reality of black and white London.

The set was very impressive, mostly based around the Banks’ house, which moved and unfolded to reveal different rooms for scenes. These transitions were always smooth, and well as being used to reinforce the sense of magic and adventure in the plot.

The choreography and vocal arrangements and performances were faultless. The ‘Step in Time’ number was especially well done, using the whole cast in an amazing tap dance routine done around a moving set, with a surprise magical ‘Mary Poppins’ moment included.

It was fun, heart-warming and professional, just as a musical should be. Lisa O’Hare played a wonderful Mary Poppins, she convincingly portrayed the no nonsense nanny with a twinkle of magic in her eye. Daniel Crossley’s portrayal of Bert was a standout performance, done with humour, almost to the point of being clownish in parts, he effectively links the scenes of the real and magical worlds together.

Louise Bowden was perfectly cast as Winifred Banks, her ‘Being Mrs Banks’ solos were exceptional, revealing the heart of a woman troubled by her husband’s expectations for her and their family, and showing her desire to support him. Chloe Jones and George Spittle-McGuire were excellent in the roles of Jane and Michael Banks, with good vocal and dance performances from such young actors.

A wonderful family musical full of rousing choruses, comic moments and fun that is sure to brighten up those dark winter evenings.

Mary Poppins runs at the Palace Theatre until Saturday 7th March 2009
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