Apologies for the unoriginal (and I'm sure overused title) but last weekend I went to see Disney and Cameron Mackintosh's Mary Poppins at the Wales Millennium Centre and it really was practically perfect in every way, just like it's namesake main character.
Mary Poppins Film and Books
I am a lifelong fan of the film and have long been intrigued with the author, P. L. Travers. My interest has increased in recent years with the reading of articles, watching documentaries and then the 2013, Saving Mr Banks movie made about her life. Somehow however, I have reached the age of 36, without ever reading the original Mary Poppins Stories (don't worry, I now have the complete collection on order).
The stage version of Mary Poppins is based on both the hit Walt Disney Movie and the stories of P. L. Travers, creating a musical that is reassuringly familiar yet refreshingly new. Reading the programme preshow I discovered that P. L. Travers had made it clear to Mackintosh that she would never agree to just putting the film onstage, she wanted a new and original score. Eventually, she gave him the go ahead and I wondered just how different the score would be. I really hoped that my favourite songs would still be in the stage show.
Thankfully, Cameron Mackintosh convinced Disney that this new musical could be created out of both the book's main stories and the film's key Sherman Brothers songs (Phew! After all, where would we all be without Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious?).
Mary Poppins - Cardiff
We settled down to watch the show with great anticipation. It's Mary Poppins! The setting was traditionally Edwardian with a picturesque doll's house like 17 Cherry Tree lane, featuring lots of surprises. From the moment, our favourite Nanny, Mary Poppins (Zizi Strallen) arrived on screen it was magical.
I was impressed by how flawlessly all the magic was displayed on stage (a far harder task than on film), from Mary Poppins' TARDIS Like Carpet Bag to her magical fixing and tidying up. I would love to know how it was done but of course, Mary Poppins "never explains anything".
The cartoon "Jolly Holiday" scene becomes a background of bright, exotic flowers, enhanced by colourful costumes. The penguins are replaced by statues that come to life, based on the "Marble Boy", Neleus from the books. There's even a cameo from the Queen!
If the bright parts of Mary Poppins the musical are brighter, than it stands to reason that the dark parts are, well, darker, especially when we are visited by Miss Andrew (Penelope Woodman), Mr Banks' former Nanny. In contrast to Mary Poppins' "Spoonful of Sugar" approach, Andrew swears by "Brimstone and Treacle".
I admit that I was a bit sad that the Uncle Albert tea party on the ceiling scene wasn't included especially as it features in both the film and the book ("We love to laugh, ha ha ha ha!"), but don't worry, there is still an amazing "dancing on the ceiling" scene from Bert (Matt Lee) during the astonishing Step in Time, tap dance scene (choreography by multi award winning Matthew Bourne).
The Bird Woman (Grainne Renihan) scene remains with "Feed the birds" coming across even more emotionally charged live and the charity message just as poignant today.
Mrs Corry (yes, the little old lady with the very tall daughters) has made it to the stage show and with a big scene of her own. She has been transformed into a flamboyant, colourful character played by Wreh-asha Walton. Her Gingerbread Shop is cleverly rewritten as a Mrs Corry's Talking Shop, which Jane and Michael (Verity Biggs, aged 11, and Lewis Fernee, aged 9) visit when they have run out of conversation and are invited to pick out the letters for "the greatest word you ever heard", setting the scene for this big dance number.
The main theme of Mary Poppins has always been family. The first Mary Poppins book was written in 1934 and yet these issues are still easy to relate to today. George Banks (Neil Roberts) works hard, rarely sees the children and worries about money. Winifred Banks (Rebecca Lock) used to have a career on the stage and struggles with the concept of "being Mrs Banks". The children want more time with their parents and would love more than anything the time to "fly a kite". The family are in crisis and Mary Poppins is here to help. As in the book, she leaves more than once. We are so relieved when she returns the first time but this makes it even more heartbreaking when she leaves for good.
When "the chain breaks", it is time. As she flies away- the music, the stars, the flying - all astounded me and I was in tears with goosebumps, looking around me, I was not the only one. The cast received a well deserved standing ovation and the audience left all proclaiming to each other how utterly amazing the show had been.
I came out of the show and vowed to be more Mary Poppins than Mr Banks in my parenting in future (please tell me I'm not the only one who slips into his work before family character occasionally?) and will definitely be buying tickets to see this show again at the next opportunity- it certainly was supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!