The Magic of Mary Poppins

Verity Hunt-Ballard and Matt Lee: Mary Poppins - Photographer David Wyatt
Verity Hunt-Ballard and Matt Lee: Mary Poppins - Photographer David Wyatt

Magically marvelous and practically perfect is the childhood movie turned musical, Mary Poppins.

Now, some die-hard fans may be a little disappointed that it’s slightly different to the movie. In this case, it’s great to have a bad memory as you would get to be delighted all over again by the magic and pure joy this show brings without being encumbered by the movie classic. All I can remember from the movie is Dick Van Dyke, dancing penguins, and Julie Andrews as a flying Nanny.

Well I’m here to report there are no dancing penguins in the stage adaption co-produced by Cameron Macintosh and Disney Productions. I can live with that. I can also live without the carousel, although I think it would have added an enchanting signature piece in the spectacularity of it all (much like chandeliers and helicopters)… and yes, “spectacularity” was a made up word I bought from Mrs Corey, the eccentric African woman selling letters and conversations in one of the newly added scenes.

I remember the songs more than the storyline itself (with original music and lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman, and book by Julian Fellowes), and there are quite a few that have lingered over the years, such as Chim Chim Cher-ee, A Spoonful of Sugar, and the classic kids tongue-twister Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. The stage adaption superbly brought to life by director Richard Eyre (and co-director Matthew Bourne), also has some additional music by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, and led faultlessly by musical director Michael Tyack.

The playbill includes an interesting article about the original author of the Mary Poppins stories, first published in 1934. Heralding from Maryborough in Queensland, P.L. Travers, created a fictional character that flies down from the heavens and “makes connections with disconnected people”.

The show is an absolute hit with the kids, but that doesn’t mean it’s just a kid’s show. Especially for those adults who loved the movie as children as it is a chance for us to spend two hours reliving our childhood in the theatre (after all, what are theatre’s for?).

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Mary Poppins - Photographer David Wyatt
Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Mary Poppins - Photographer David Wyatt

A child would call this show magical. An adult would perhaps say it’s technically very clever. I am still wondering how they did some of those tricks. I was blown away by the use of multi-media, which pushed the boundaries of theatre making and added another whole new dimension to the theatrical experience. I was almost wondering if I should have brought my 3D glasses with me. These illusions showcased a brilliant technical team and lighting director (Howard Harrison), as an innovative part of the storytelling and are shining stars in their own right.

The costumes and sets designed by Bob Crowley were impressive and provided some literally jaw-dropping moments as each stunningly designed and beautifully lit set revealed itself, especially the inside of the house, which unfolded like a child’s doll house in a pop-out book. The various rooms and levels of the house, including the child’s bedrooms upstairs and the roof where the chimney sweeps hang out were just as visually stunning and effective.

Verity Hunt-Ballard in the title role was I have to say it … “practically perfect”. With the right balance of poise, mixed with a touch of mischief and magic, Verity’s star power was commanding onstage. She only had to share the spotlight when the charmingly cheeky Bert (played by Matt Lee), was onstage. Matt was equally mesmerizing and a delight to watch. Both performers worked marvelously together and if I had to make a comparison with the infamous movie duo, I think I would be bold enough to say that I prefer their contemporaries.

Did someone just say the words “movie remake” Mr Mackintosh?

The astute businessman and patriarch George Banks, was well played by Simon Burke. It’s hard to play ‘the company man’ with much colour, so it was nice to see his character blossom in the second act, giving the actor more substance to play with.

The character of Mrs Winifred Banks, played by Pippa Grandison was refreshing. Usual expectations of the wife behind the working husband, is likened to a demure cardboard cut-out from the first wives club, but instead we saw a creative, unique individual, grappling with the whole stereotype itself. I’m sure a lot of mother’s in the audience were on her side, silently shouting, “mums are real people too!”

The two Banks children played on opening night by Rose Shannon-Duhigg and Kurtis Papadinis never ceased to amaze me with their talent and professionalism. With such large integral roles, I was impressed with how they handled themselves (not to mention the perfect execution of the fast choreography for Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious).

The delivery of the supporting characters were also right on the sixpence, with Sally-Anne Upton playing the lively but under-appreciated house keeper Mrs Brill, Natalie Gamsu playing the wickedly strict Miss Andrew and Leah Howard playing Mrs Corry the eccentric sweet shop owner.

As a lover of the dance musical genre, I really do appreciate the rise in the quality and importance of the dance numbers. With choreography by Matthew Bourne and Stephen Mear, the dance numbers were a treat to watch. I especially loved Step in Time and Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

This magical production of Mary Poppins exceeded my expectations with the quality of technical production, stunning visuals as well as the execution of the enchanting story itself. It is no surprise that it received eight accolades at the 2011 Helpman Awards including best musical, best male and female actors in a musical, best direction and choreography of a musical, best sound design and best music direction.

Mary Poppins the musical is a high-definition, spectacular, feel-good delight and is definitely on the recommended list for 2012.

Images by David Wyatt

Bobbi-Lea Dionysius

Bobbi-Lea is's QLD Co-ordinator, writer, reviewer, and reporter. She is also an actor, presenter, and theatre/film producer for Drama Queen Productions in Brisbane. Bobbi-Lea holds a Degree in Music Theatre as well as a Degree in Film & TV, and is currently doing her Masters in Screen Production.

Bobbi-Lea Dionysius

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