Book: Julian Fellowes
Director: Richard Eyre
Original Music and Lyrics: Richard M Sherman and Robert B Sherman
New Songs and Additional Music and Lyrics: George Stiles and Anthony Drewe
Reviewer: Chris Oldham
For many, the wistful opening bars of Chim Chim Cher-ee are enough to conjure up memories of Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke dancing in a world above the roof tops. For the stage show of Walt Disney’s beloved film, you’d be forgiven for thinking they might need to scale it back a bit. But, moments after the house lights go down it’s clear that co-creator Cameron Mackintosh and director Richard Eyre have no intention of doing anything of the sort. After having its world première at the Bristol Hippodrome back in 2004, Mary Poppins is back. And she’s lost none of her sparkle.
It’s the fantastical tale of a prim and proper nanny, here played by Zizi Strallen, who appears just when the Banks family need her the most. George (Milo Twomey) is an uptight, emotionally buttoned-down banker while his devoted wife Winifred (Rebecca Lock) is a stay-at-home mother who gave up her dreams of a career on stage. Their children Jane and Michael, meanwhile, run every new nanny out the door and round the bend.
Fans of the film will be pleased to know that all the best musical numbers are present and correct (as well as some new songs), along with all the trickery of bottomless handbags, self-tidying roomsand, of course, that umbrella.
Dizzying, rousing show-stoppers Jolly Holiday, Step in Time and Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious threaten to bring the house down, with Matt Lee looking like the master of his craft as he leads the company as Bert. Elsewhere, softer laments Being Mrs Banks and Feed the Birds make sure our heartstrings get a little bit of action, too.
Bob Crowley’s sets are arguably the biggest spectacle of the evening, with the Banks’ residence opening and closing like a giant dolls’ house, and parks, roof tops and trips through the stars coming and going under the clever, watchful eye of Natasha Katz’s lighting design.
It’s necessary for the story to change somewhat on its way from screen to stage. What it does mean, though, is that at times the already rather thin plot is stretched even further. A second act reveal of the satanic Miss Andrew (Penelope Woodman) gives things a boost, however.
As Mary, Strallen looks every inch the part, and with such vocal control and effortless elegance – especially during the huge dance numbers – it’s not hard to love her. The sizeable company behind her fills the stage with energy and warmth, with Wendy Ferguson (Mrs Brill) stealing most, if not every, scene in which she appears.
Musical theatre doesn’t come much more colourful, jubilant or welcoming than this.
Runs until 28 November 2015 as part of a tour until 29 October 2016 | Image: Johan Persson