Wednesday, May 25, 2022, 7 p.m., Lyric Theater Sydney
Twelve years after MARY POPPINS first flew to Australian theatres, the theatrical musical adaptation of PL Travers’ famous magical nanny returns to the Sydney stage to delight young and old alike. Beautiful aesthetic and theatrical magic combine with fabulous music and choreography to draw people into the surreal world surrounding the mysterious woman who comes with the wind for children and adults who desperately need her help.
While the Australian author of the MARY POPPINS books, PL Travers, is widely known to have been disappointed by Disney’s handling of her stories in 1964, which turned the fairly appropriate and speedy nanny into an overly sweet character (see SAVING MR. BANKS), the stage version is closer to his intentions for the sensitive and strict nanny who chose compassion and pleasure over misery and punishment to achieve her goals. This return to the original 8-book series also allowed producer and co-creator Cameron Mackintosh to craft a theatrical expression that gives older audiences something new as they see a different take on Mary Poppins while the darker messages and harder than bad behavior and disregard for others and property has consequences. While some of the film’s famous sequences, like the penguin dance and the ceiling tea party, were simply not feasible for a live production and, thankfully, the temptation many other modern musicals have given in to. Using LED screens was resisted, this stage version includes classic scenes like chimney sweeps on the rooftops of London and meeting the Bird Woman (Nancye Hayes) on the steps of St Paul.Linking the work to its printed origins, Bob Crowley’s stage design is made up of wondrously intricate monochrome designs for the world untouched by the vitality of Mary Poppins, the gray London that threatens to bring down someone so she has no inner imagination. to see beyond the gloomy weather, rigid formalities and difficult economic times of Depression-era Edwardian London. Adventures in the whimsical worlds of Mary Poppins are clearly delineated with all the colors of the rainbow presented with dynamism but always with restraint to ensure they don’t tip completely into garish clashes. Crowley’s costume design similarly follows the same color theory with the Banks family, while having some color in their clothing, is muted against the rich solid colors of Mary Poppins coats and the characters that the children meet with her, even chimney sweeps have a sparkle in clothes covered in black soot. After the extended shutdown of the theatre, it is wonderful to see a production complete with huge dance numbers, elegantly choreographed by Matthew Bourne (choreographer and co-director), recreated by Richard Jones. The work features elements of classical musical theater as well as ballet and tap dance ensuring the work remains fresh and vibrant.Taking on the parrot-headed umbrella for this production, Stefanie Jones is more than “practically perfect” for the role. Jones has an innate charm. She can tell so much with just a look and although every move is as precise as one would expect from the very exact nanny, nothing seems forced. She’s got that “twinkle” in her eye that indicates there’s a whole lot more underneath the tightly pressed shirt and neatly pinned hair, ensuring it’s easy to see why people fall for Mary Poppins. Her voice is rich and pure, balancing between the English accent and ensuring she still owns the part and isn’t trying to sound like a movie memory.
Jones is a perfect match for Jack Chambers as Bert, the jack-of-all-trades who shares many adventures with Mary and the Banks children. Like Jones, Chambers delivers captivating dance sequences and possesses an endearing charm that suggests kids would easily come to trust him, even though he’s not the kind of person their dad would like them to hang out with. associate.
Lucy Maunder and Tom Wren as Winifred and George Banks complete the central adults. Maunder is always a pleasure to watch and listen to and her expressions that convey Winifred’s true feelings are priceless. She gives depth to Winifred while laying out the expectations of women in Edwardian England. It captures the inner conflict the former actress has with her new role in life as a wife and mother trying to keep her husband happy by assimilating into the society he wants to be associated with. Making his musical theater debut, Tom Wren captures the essence of the British “stiff upper lip” he perceives the Bank clerk should have while giving subtle hints of a softer side he retains, forced into repression after years of emotional trauma inflicted by his own nanny.Other roles of note are Nancye Hayes as Bird Lady, Stephen Anderson as Park Warden, Hanna Waterman as Mrs. Brill, and Gareth Isaac as Robertson Ay. Hayes gives the bird lady an air of intrigue beneath her plight. Anderson gives the park ranger the right balance between absurd respect for the rules and humanity. Waterman and Isaac as a domestic helper create comic relief from the intensity of the Banks family dynamic with Isaac contributing to a brilliantly wacky sequence with the Banks children, presented by Chloe Delle-Vedove and William Steiner last night in review.
A perfect escape from the real world while holding important messages for audiences of all ages, MARY POPPINS is a must-watch. Even if you have fond memories of the film, watch this stage version and reconnect and learn more about the mysterious caregiver. A vibrant mix of well-known music and songs created for this MARY POPPINS work reinforces the importance of family and the confidence that the impossible can happen.
Photos: Dayna Ransley