Utterly magical and spell-binding, the Disney and Cameron Mackintosh collaboration is dazzling from start to finish
Starring Zizi Strallen, Charlie Stemp, Joseph Millson, Amy Griffiths, Petula Clark, Claire Moore, Claire Machin and Jack North
Greetings, dear readers, to another Musical Theatre Monday. I say Musical Theatre Monday as if it’s a regular feature, but I realise that it’s been a while since I’ve done one. I promise I’ve been seeing things, but there’s little to blog about when you see Waitress for the third time, Six for the third time, and watch the Les Mis concert in the final week of it being on. Regardless, I am back in what is to be one of a series of instalments as to my very hectic Christmas schedule of viewing.
First on that list is Mary Poppins. I must confess it’s been a while since I’ve seen the film, but it feels like one of those entities that stays with you even after a prolonged period away. I was aware that the musical version had made alterations to the film material, as well as adding more songs to fully flesh it out into a West End spectacle.
Spectacle is most certainly the word for what Mary Poppins offers. There is not a single element in which it falls down, really. The set design is gorgeous, with Bob Crowley, the scenic designer, using multiple set pieces which really bring the stage to life. It’s refreshing to see a show using sets to this degree, as many modern productions have become guilty of using projections and minimal set where possible.
The choreography is high-energy and engaging, courtesy of Matthew Bourne and Stephen Mear, and ably performed by the entire cast. It’s also delightful to see lead characters taking such a role within the choreography. Zizi Strallen and Charlie Stemp are often front and centre during the dance numbers, which is something I don’t ordinarily see in shows, instead seeing the principal characters disappear while the ensemble perform the dance sections.
The music is as delightful as you would expect it to be, featuring the songs that we all know from the film – A Spoonful of Sugar, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious and Feed the Birds, for example – but also have delightful new additions, such as Practically Perfect. These new songs have been written for the musical by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, who were also responsible for tweaking some of the original lyrics and updating the vocal arrangements.
What is, perhaps, the most striking about Mary Poppins are the on-stage magic. The number of practical effects and illusions seen were genuinely jaw-dropping, and I simply gave up wondering how all of them were being achieved. I am semi-convinced that Paul Kieve and Jim Steinmeyer are actual wizards, because that’s the only reasonable explanation I can see for them pulling off so many tricks in front of an audience. I shan’t spoil exactly what these effects are, but they are utterly delightful.
Mary Poppins is precisely what the West End needs right now. Full, musical theatre sound, with passionate and energetic choreography, complete with stunning costumes and sets. On top of that, it builds upon the story we already know and embellishes it with heaps more character development (especially poor Mrs Banks) and plenty of heart.
Mary Poppins is currently playing at the Prince Edward Theatre, and is booking until 7th June 2020.