You’d be hard-pressed to name a movie musical that is more iconic than ‘Mary Poppins’. And so, like many others, I ventured to CLOC Musical Theatre’s production with high hopes. For the most part, I was not disappointed.
I’ll do my best to avoid drawing too many parallels between the movie and the stage show as I’m sure there are valid reasons as to why they differ, however I have to admit I was disappointed to learn that Disney and Cameron Mackintosh decided against allocating the roles of Bert and the Bank Chairman to the same actor (which proved to be a fantastic opportunity for Dick Van Dyke to demonstrate his versatility) and that a few great numbers from the movie were dropped – ‘I Love to Laugh’ for example. Overall, the adaptation was solid, but I could definitely see how some corners where cut by the writers, to the detriment of the original work.
In the title role of Mary was Rosa McCarty. McCarty’s performance was poised, measured and suitably cheeky, all in equal doses. Rosa negotiated the vocal requirements of the role with ease. Her precise diction, solid British accent and assured comic timing made for a very enjoyable performance. As such, she was the obvious focal point whenever she graced the stage.
Robbie Smith as Bert gave a solid performance in a role that was relatively one dimensional, by design… not the actor’s capability. His dance ability outshone any issues with the character and his consistency throughout made him endearing to his audience.
Lee Threadgold, in the role of George Banks, was a commanding presence on stage and as his biography suggests, he was indeed “formidable”. His dramatic and comic ability was very strong – something Melbourne audiences have come to expect from this seasoned performer. Kristen Beayni was a delight as Threadgold’s counterpart, Winifred Banks. Her pure and attractive soprano voice, her seamless legato phrasing and her sincere and poised portrayal was impressive.
Jane and Michael Banks, played by Alexandra Denovan and Caleb Waterworth, respectively, were superb. Denovan and Waterworth are amongst the best child actors I’ve seen on an amateur stage. Their dialogue and vocals were delivered with expert timing and impeccable diction and both demonstrated a clear and consistent understanding of their characters throughout.
Jennie Kellaway as Mrs Brill and Johnathon White as Robertson Ay produced some well-received comedic moments, while a scene-stealing cameo by Carolyn Waddell as Miss Andrew was a very welcome addition to the stage adaptation. Scott Hili gave solid performances as Admiral Boom and the Chairman of the Board, while Britni Leslie was utterly engaging in her portrayal of as Mrs Corry.
Sets by Chris White were stunning. White’s artistry and ability to create pieces that are both practical and beautiful were put to the test in this production and he achieved an overall look that was cohesive and exciting. Several large pieces, like the Bank’s residence, were built like a doll’s house. They were opened and closed gracefully, carefully guided by an experienced crew, who never put a foot wrong. Each set piece also contained a number of unexpected stage tricks, which added the magic that a show like this requires. I must commend the CLOC team on their outstanding display of stagecraft.
Having observed White’s elaborate set designs for over two decades, I’ve come to realise that he’s not a fan of computer-generated graphics. This became quite apparent in Poppins. The use of multimedia was hit and miss. The London nightscape, complete with billowing smoke from the chimneys, twinkling lights and a city silhouette was beautiful, as were a number of paintings transferred to projections, such as the park and streetscapes. However the projection of moving clouds, which appeared more than once, was too sparse and an obvious departure from his usually rich settings.
Choreography by Lynette White was outstanding. The talented ensemble executed her direction flawlessly – their dance, acrobatic and aerial abilities were best showcased in the show stopper, Step In Time.
The standout element of this show was the costume design. Victoria Horne and her army of sewers excelled. No detail was overlooked and I was completely overwhelmed by the sheer volume of costumes that continued to adorn the stage. Each piece was individual in nature and expertly crafted.
Musical Direction by Danny Forward was for the most part, very good. The cast did, on occasion, fall out of sync with the orchestra, however these occasions were only few. There was some lovely ensemble singing and the orchestra was tight and precise.
Direction by Chris and Lynette White was highly impressive. Their partnership with the CLOC technical team produced several astonishing effects. The first time Mary ascended the staircase was a real “wow” moment (though I think that by the third time the joke had lost its shine). The script doesn’t lend itself to a great deal of character development for anyone other than Banks, so understandably, the Directors didn’t try to break the mould. What they managed to do exceptionally well was pull together a massive machine, with a series of complex moving parts to create a cohesive vision that maintained consistency and flow.
Mary Poppins is a technical triumph for the CLOC team. “Practically perfect in almost every way.”