In Review: Mary Poppins The Broadway Musical, Melbourne, January 8th 2011

Dear Audy,

It can be hard going out when you are in a lot of pain. Something that I really enjoy doing is going to see theatrical productions and live music. The problem with wanting to do this and living with CRPS is that tickets need to be booked in advance and having a bad body day on the date on your tickets doesn’t allow you to change the show; you can either suck up the pain and attend, or sacrifice your ticket.

Yesterday I went to see Mary Poppins at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne. Yesterday was also a particularly hot and sticky day, something that my nervous system just cannot seem to find harmony with. I was very sore, very sore, indeed. It was difficult to be upright and extremely difficult to ignore the pain of sitting in a cramped seat for three hours. I tried my best to enjoy the show, however being uncomfortable probably contributed to the exacerbation of my pre-existing status as a harsh theatre critic.

To start with the things I liked, Verity Hunt-Ballard was practically perfect as Mary Poppins, just as her character sings in a catchy musical number that was written for the broadway show. Verity Hunt-Ballard glided across the stage with poise and elegance, her rosy cheeks and bright eyes conveying a playful and friendly demeanour beyond her neatly dressed exterior. She was cheeky, clever, insightful and when she began to sing, magical. She captured the wonder of Julie Andrews’ well loved portrayal of the character, even succeeding in bringing more mystery and enchantment to the character than what I remember from my childhood viewings of the film.

I was not willing to fork out for the expensive glossy program, so I have had to guess from the cast photos on the official website as to the actress playing Jane Banks in the performance that I saw. I am fairly certain that it was Sara Reed. I am genuinely certain that if it was Sara Reed, then that little girl is the vessel for one gigantic talent! Her voice was angelic, sweet, pitch perfect and powerful. Whenever she sang, she managed to outshine the older and more practised vocalists that she performed alongside.

I was very interested to see the performance chops of Matt Lee, most notorious for his role as a judge on the now defunct Australian version of So You Think You Can Dance. Unfortunately, I think he was miscast in the role of Bert. My memories of Bert are as a very manly man – a chimney sweep has to have balls, right? Rough, manly balls.

There is also the allusion to a past relationship between Bert and Mary Poppins. This implication seemed ridiculous when playing out between Matt Lee and Verity Hunt-Ballard. His characterisation of Bert was rather clown-like and almost cartoonish. He seemed so much younger and less sophisticated than Mary Poppins that his attempt to steal a kiss came across more like the efforts of a schoolboy with a crush than an interaction between a man and a woman with ambiguous history.

Matt Lee is much more talented as a dancer than a vocalist. Step In Time, a number that filled the stage with tap dancing chimney sweeps was the show stealer for me. When the first male sweep began to sing with Matt Lee, his voice had that deepness and rough edge to it that seemed much more “Bert” to me.

My fellow theatre goers weren’t as unimpressed by Bert from this different, less manly and more lightly joyful angle. Perhaps it was my preconceptions that did not leave room for a new interpretation of this character.

I had trouble adjusting to a few of the storytelling decisions that were made in translating Mary Poppins from the film we all know and the books that it was based on originally. To be honest, I had no idea that Mary Poppins did not originate with the Disney film, so I might have to get my hands on the books by P.L. Travers and have a read.

But now for my biggest gripe…there was no carousel. Oh, there was magic in the park, a little adventure through a painting, even wonderful dancing statues, but no carousel. I was highly disappointed by this. I freaking love carousels, especially old fashioned, gloriously detailed ones. I wanted to see a representation of this on stage, even though I understand that a physical production cannot shift into animation for a horse race, I think they could have adapted the Supercalifragilistic scene to include pretty wooden horses on brass poles.

This disappointment didn’t leave me particularly open to enjoying the replacement scene involving an African woman who was selling conversation. Mary Poppins and the children purchase some random letters, from which the word “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” is born. Perhaps this scene has come from the books, but from the perspective of only being familiar with the film, it seemed like an odd plot adaptation.

Also confusing me a little was the amount of time spent singing and dancing about flying a kite. I kept thinking “I don’t care if you want to fly a kite, you have Mary Poppins, do something magic”. I can fly a kite and I don’t have any magic that I’m aware of.

Mr Banks was well portrayed, although I found the scenes with Mary Poppins and the children overhearing him in his office a little bit hard to swallow. I also kept getting hung up on the fact that the Banks family is financially struggling and yet the mother does a great deal of stuff all whilst they pay nannies to care for their unruly children.

I know, I know, it was another time, a time when class ranking meant more and certain ways of life dictated your class. Whether people could actually afford to live up to that pretty, porcelain front or not was less important than maintaining the facade. I didn’t mean my mind to get caught up in dissecting the plot when I should have been enjoying a musical spectacular, but that’s just sort of what happened.

I might have been over-thinking to try to distract myself from my physical pain, but in spite of these observations, I actually did enjoy the show. The costuming, staging and lighting were all fabulous, the show did create a sense of nostalgia and pure enjoyment for enjoyment’s sake.

Finding some distaste in a theatrical production isn’t without its interest either. I know what I like and I know what I don’t like. Back in the days when I did things like study and plan for my future in a way that wasn’t so physically limited, I envisioned myself working wonders on the stage. I love working with a script, with actors and a crew to build a production organically and in such a way that talents are highlighted and flaws glossed over. Critically examining productions is just another way of learning. Who knows? Perhaps I will get to work in theatre again one day, it doesn’t hurt to continue to develop my tastes.

So being in pain can make me a little grumpy and critical, so what? Every show can’t be up to the standard of Beauty And The Beast, circa 1995, when Hugh Jackman shone gallantly in the role of Gaston.

If you like fun and music and dancing, pretty lights and pretty costumes, go along and enjoy Mary Poppins before it packs up and heads to Sydney. There’s a lot about the show that you can get wrapped up in, there’s a lot to enjoy and you don’t have to get all nit-picky like me.

I am currently running on very little sleep for reasons unknown and trying to overcome the pain of living in a body that feels like a rusty terminator. I’ll get by, I have tickets to see a children’s production of Alice In Wonderland later this week, perhaps I will leave my critiquing glasses at home that day.

Love & A Spoonful Of Sugar,

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  • 7 thoughts on “In Review: Mary Poppins The Broadway Musical, Melbourne, January 8th 2011

    1. Tracey

      I have a love/hate relationship with musicals … so your critique sounds perfect (and very witty) to me! That seems like very strange casting with Matt Lee … he’s about as far from manly as a man could ever hope to get!!

      I had no idea Mary Poppins was in books before the movie either … I’ll have to investigate those too.

      I hope you feel better soon and the temperatures aren’t as evil!!

      1. Suzanne Stewart

        OH My! I loved that movie and the songs are great! i WISH i could have been there, sitting with you and enjoying the show, the music and we could have comiserated together with our pain..yuk…so glad you got out and got to have an enjoyable time being “cultured”…even though the pain was with you, you ventured out into the world! You go girl!! Love you…SuzyQ

        1. Hayley Cafarella Post author

          Thanks, Lovely! It’s always a big adventure and Mary Poppins was definitely worth the effort. I hope I can go to NY one day and see a broadway play every night of the week – it’s an old dream of mine!! :) xx

    2. Jen

      Was Hugh Jackman in beauty and the beast??? That was the first show I ever went to! Then many years later I saw ‘We will rock you’ and I think the last musical I saw was The Lion King which was all kinds of fabulous. I’m not schooled in the many musical theatre productions, I’ve never seen les mes…), rent, Oliver, fame, etc etc (old and new). One day I’d like to sit down and watch the movies, but I feel like I have not missed out entirely, but I do love a good toe tapping song. One day hopefully I’ll get round to watching these musicals.
      And hayles, we all have a little bit of magic inside! 😉
      Love Jen
      ** take note, if I’ve not made sense in this comment or rambled on, it’s the painkillers. :S

      1. Caf Post author

        I’m late with replies, but yep, Hugh was Gaston. Oh god…he was so awesome. Best stage production ever!!

    3. Polly

      My kids love the film of Mary Poppins and I was thinking of taking them to a touring production that came our way – but was worried that the stage version wouldn’t be as exciting as the film. The special effects in the film seem a bit poor to us now adults that CGI is the norm – but they are still magic to a seven year old.

      I want them to love the theatre so didn’t want to put them off – I’ll wait a few years.

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