DISNEY THEATRICAL PRODUCTIONS AND CAMERON MACKINTOSH
Music and Lyrics by
Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman
additional Music and Lyrics by
George Stiles and Anthony Drew
Book by Julian Fellowes
PRINCE EDWARD THEATRE
9 November 2019 - 29 February 2020
Reviewed by Clive Burton
Looks like success is in the bag for this latest stage musical adaption of Richard Eyre’s elaboration of the PL Travers’ Mary Poppins stories and, in Cameron Mackintosh's co-creation of the re-worked Disney movies with their original Richard and Robert Sherman songs augmented by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, this latest collaborative effort confirms Poppins as a musical worthy of the original classic.
The show’s particular appeal is as bottomless as Mary’s magical carpet bag from which she produces her many personal possessions to make her at home in the Banks’ household into which she has flown to take charge of their children. If not exactly killing them with kindness, her persuasive alcohol-tinted 'Spoonful of Sugar' produces more effective results than one of her predecessors, Mr Banks’ original nanny, the mischievously-named Miss Andrew.
Stiles and Drewe were initially taken aback that the three-year run of the original re-working proved not quite the enduring smash they had hoped for - but with a new book buffed up after a year on the road, this is a very different show with a life of its own rooted in Bob Crowley’s quirkily ravishing designs of the Banks’ family home to which the eponymous nanny literally brings a welcome breath of fresh air.
The much-revised storylines by Downton author Julian Fellowes are engaging enough but have been somewhat expanded (with mixed success) to accommodate new scenes and characters.
So, the familiar faces are all the more welcome when they appear; Zizi Strallen’s Mary is instantly appealing with clear enunciation in Julie Andrews mode but much less extreme in her handling of vowel sounds.
Charlie Stemp’s ‘lucky’ Chimney Sweep, Bert, is a natural in a role to which he brings particular finesse as a dancer - he showcases his split jumps and leads the ensemble in Matthew Bourne's breathtaking co-choreography with Stephen Mear’s inventive steps to prove a joyous leading man throughout.
And what a pleasure to hear Petula Clark in the featured role of Bird Woman delivering ‘Feed the Birds’ with such undiminished star wattage.
The Banks’ family unit work particularly well together as an entity - Father George, Mother Winifred, and their two children, Jane and Michael, overcoming moral and monetary hurdles to triumph in the end.
The children (Nuala Peberdy and Fred Wilcox on press night) are completely believable, and Joseph Millson and Amy Griffiths bring new depth to their father/mother roles and are each given a new song.
Amy Griffiths' sensitively conveys what it is 'Being Mrs Banks' and husband George emotes his true feelings in 'Good for Nothing', showing how seriously he takes his responsibilities as pater familias.
But there remain several other scenes with semi-redundant characters that can often grate: notably Paul F Monaghan’s campy Admiral Boom, and the whole business with a recalcitrant dog puppet. A curiously dark Act I closer ‘Playing the Game’ with its self- indulgent Mr Punch toy sequence is also at odds with a story that has already been considerably tampered with.
So, if all is not quite 'practically perfect' in the new version, such spectacular set pieces as a flying brollylicious Mary, a Bert who navigates the impossible task of dancing across the proscenium arch with enormous aplomb, and statuary coming unexpectedly to life in the Park, bring significant jaw-dropping moments of their own to a story whose characters will surely continue to enchant audiences for generations to come.
Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7.30pm,
Thursday, Saturday and Sundays at 2.30pm
see website for Preview performance schedule
Family Night performances on Wednesdays at 7pm
Tickets from £15, reduced price tickets for Family Night performances
£2.50 booking fee applies