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BWW Review: MARY POPPINS, Birmingham Hippodrome


Everyone's favourite magical nanny, Mary Poppins, is back in this award-winning musical adaptation of the P.L.Travers novel and beloved Disney film. Featuring many of the most popular songs composed by the Sherman brothers, this blockbuster musical is, for many, a wonderfully nostalgic trip down memory to see a favourite childhood movie in the flesh.

The story of Mary Poppins the musical is a hybrid of the film and the original novel; we meet new characters, like Neleus the statue and the redoubtable Mrs Corry. Although some scenes from the film have been omitted, such as the laughing tea party with Uncle Albert, the plot feels as though it has been developed for the stage. We see a more vulnerable side to Mrs Banks and Mary Poppins, learn about Mr Banks' past and begin to grow up with Jane and Michael. A clever combination of songs and brief, yet revealing, exchanges of dialogue, really allow the audience to connect with every character.

George Stiles and Anthony Drewe have sprinkled an extra helping of magic over this production; their new songs, witty lyrics and additional musical interludes create showcase moments throughout the show. Lyrics such as "if you reach for the heavens you get the stars thrown in" evoke the sense of anticipation and excitement that Mary Poppins brings wherever she goes.

The musical arrangement of 'Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious' is a true highlight, fancifully set in a Talking Shop; from the intricate dance routine (choreographed by Sir Matthew Bourne), to the additional 'spelling bee' style refrain and the original well-loved melody threaded throughout, this song becomes a show stopping piece which rightly deserves its very own curtain call.

The wonder and magic of Mary Poppins is evident in the sublime stage designs by Bob Crowley. The Banks' house on Cherry Tree Lane unfurls like a doll's house and transforms with breath-taking fluidity into Jane and Michael's bedroom, the park, the bank and Mrs Corry's Talking Shop. Quirky touches emerge to delight the audience at every turn, including a kite which really flies, the gorgeous misty world of the chimney tops and, of course, Mary Poppins' famously bottom-less carpet bag.

The special effects are some of the most astounding and surprising of any musical. Once Bert has tap-danced his way around the proscenium arch, and Mary Poppins has genuinely soared through the auditorium, you could be forgiven for thinking that the cast are actually magic.

Whilst they may not be actually magical, the cast of Mary Poppins are seriously talented. Few other productions demand such skill and stamina of their cast, as almost every scene involves huge musical numbers, complex choreography and precise special effects.

Zizi Strallen is practically perfect as Mary Poppins herself, channelling Julie Andrews with her crisp accent and deliciously sweet vocals. She also makes the role her own, completely inhabiting the part with wonderful little touches, always patting down her hair and flicking her eyes sideways in the most endearing and elusive way.

Matt Lee gives a powerful, high energy performance as Bert. He is everyone's favourite cheeky chappie, giving the audience a cheeky wink, the constant twinkling smile and a Cockney accent that is a touch more authentic than Dick Van Dyke's.

Rebecca Lock is a wonderful Mrs Banks with a stunningly beautiful voice. Her characterisation is full of depth and clarity and her comic timing is impeccable. Milo Twomey does an excellent job of portraying the more vulnerable side to Mr Banks, yet his vocal performance lacked strength and conviction.

With all the glitz and glamour of a West End musical, yet the heart and charm of the original children's novel, Mary Poppins is a triumph for all the family. The sheer talent of the cast, the magic of the set, and the wonderful songs (both new and original) make it an absolute must see. Book your tickets now, spit spot.

Photo credit: Johan Persson

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