Music Theatre

Mary Poppins review [Melbourne 2023]

Thoroughly disproving the law of diminishing returns, Mary Poppins soars again as the current Australian revival tour brings everyone’s favourite nanny back to her spiritual home at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne.

While the original season of Mary Poppins stood in the shadow of the classic 1964 movie, the stage musical now stands proudly as a theatrical treasure in its own right. Co-created by Cameron Mackintosh, the 2004 musical blends the original Sherman Brothers songs with new songs and additional music and lyrics from George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, also boasting a book by Julian Fellowes, direction by Richard Eyre and Matthew Bourne, and choreography by Bourne and Stephen Mear. 

Arguably the most artful Disney screen-to-stage musical this side of The Lion King, the super slick production currently benefits from the additional polish and shine that came as part of the 2019 London revival.

William David Brohn’s orchestrations have extra snap and fizz, richly brought to life by musical director Geoffrey Castles. Illusionists Paul Kieve and Jim Steinmeyer now have even more magic tricks up their sleeves. While not presented on the original scale seen in London, Bob Crowley’s storybook scenery remains perfectly charming, and his cavalcade of costumes are a lustrous attraction in their own right. The addition of an oversized “Punch” puppet in act one finale “Playing the Game” brings an extra touch of spectacle. 

Directing this Australian tour, James Powell builds confidently upon the abundant character and heart of Eyre’s original direction, deftly bringing out fresh humour and neatly nuanced expression from the supremely talented cast. The emotional arc, centred upon the very necessary thawing of Mr Banks, is as affectingly heartwarming as it is ever timely.

Richard Jones expertly recreates the choreography of Mear and Bourne, delivering boffo production numbers that truly bring down the house. “Jolly Holiday” is a technicolor dream to rival Dorothy’s arrival in Oz.  “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” is a riot of precise, rapid fire movement. Tap extravaganza “Step in Time” completely stops the show in act two.

Practically perfect, Stefanie Jones is a marvellous Mary, dispensing wit and wisdom with a deliciously plummy vocal tone that melts into a golden soprano in song. An elegant dancer to boot, Jones truly makes the role her own in a warmly memorable performance. 

A rascally twinkle in his eye, Jack Chambers brings effortless charm to earthy everyman Bert. A crisply polished dancer, Chambers’ tap solos in “Step in Time” are quite literally jaw-dropping. 

Playing the rare musical couple that are simply best friends, Jones and Chambers enjoy a relaxed chemistry stemming from the perfect match of the their triple threat skills, which each utilises in gently underplayed style. 

Expertly taking Mr Banks from emotionally stilted patriarch to warmly loving father and husband, Tom Wren provides dramatic heft to neatly balance and ground the show’s fantastical elements. Lucy Maunder is a lovely Mrs Banks, and although her dialogue includes a few too many Australian vowels, the ways in which she highlights the theatricality of the former stage performer make for many a delightful moment. 

Hannah Waterman appears born to play poor old Mrs Brill, scoring an abundance of hearty laughs (more than this reviewer has ever seen in this plum role). As hapless houseboy Robertson Ay, Gareth Isaac delivers physical comedy with flair. 

Australia’s leading lady Marina Prior is luxury casting as Bird Woman, singing classic lullaby “Feed the Birds” with tender sweetness. A gifted comic actress, Prior tears up the stage as nasty nanny Miss Andrew in a terrific pair of act two scenes. 

Robert Grubb brings experienced presence to Admiral Boom and Chairman of the Bank. Lisa Sontag is a delightful scene partner for Grubb as indulgent pet parent Miss Lark. 

On opening night, Harriet Alder played Jane Banks with a well-judged mix of petulance and pleasantness. Straight-faced delivery and vocal precision from Sebastian Sero brought out the cheeky boyish humour of Michael Banks.

Special mention to Stephen Anderson who contrasted noble Northbrook with the delightfully frazzled Park Keeper. 

Blue chip family entertainment, Mary Poppins is must-see musical theatre magic. 

Mary Poppins plays at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne. For tickets, click here.

Mary Poppins plays at Festival Theatre, Adelaide. To join the waitlist, click here.

Photos: Daniel Boud

12 replies »

  1. Happy New Year Simon. Thank you for the Mary Poppins revival review.
    It is indeed a wonderful stage treat and finally it gets to Adelaide (fingers crossed).
    It will be interesting to see how they adapt the Adelaide Festival Theatre infrastructure to accommodate the iconic finale as there is a fair degree of height involved.
    Adelaide cast choices should also be interesting.
    I look forward to your reviews both domestic and international in 2023 Simon.

    • Thanks very much, Edward. Happy New Theatrical Year to you!
      Hopefully the Adelaide will be confirmed before too long – the more people who sign up for the waitlist the better. Fingers crossed you will at least have Stefanie and Jack, if not all the leads in this wonderful cast.
      The theatre needs to be ready for the finale and also for Bert’s incredible tap dance up and across the proscenium arch!
      I am jealous of your G&S festival this year – I must see if I can get across for that. If not, I will rely on your reports!

  2. Looks like a really colourful fun show. The set looks lovely too, although not sure about the large “Punch” figure – looks a tad nightmarish! I saw M.P on Broadway in 2017 and the set for that production was one of the “stars” of the show – a 3 storey “dolls-house cut away” on stage – it was amazing. I also recall Bert dancing across the proscenium arch!

    • Great show to see on Broadway!
      Bert’s tap dance up and across the pro arch is still there – incredible!
      The giant Punch puppet is as nightmarish in the theatre as it looks in the photo.
      With golden age musicals somewhat out of style, this is as close as we can get to a big chorus and orchestra at the moment. The music is excellent.

      • That’s a very good point Simon re “this is as close as we can get to a big chorus and orchestra at the moment.” The trending boutique musicals rely on technically enhanced sound from a small orchestral ensemble. It was glorious to hear SA State Opera’s Carousel/Sweeney Todd in 2021 and Bright Lights Big Dreams in 2022 accompanied by the luxurious sound of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. Once you’ve heard it …..there’s no going back !

      • Based on my recent Broadway visit, there is also a current trend towards high volume amplified sound. My bones shook at both MJ the Musical and & Juliet.
        I went to Phantom of the Opera for the third time this week. That orchestra is wonderful!
        You are being well served by the Adelaide Symphony. I would love to have seen any one of those recent performances, especially Carousel!

      • Is it true that in the current Phantom they have gone pc/occ. health + safety with the chandelier and that it plummets but doesn’t crash to the stage ?

      • I am not sure if it was an OHS issue wit the chandelier or whether the State Theatre could not be wired to have it rise and fall from the stage. There are extra sparks and flashes now with the chandelier and the fall (straight down) is still quite heartstopping.
        Speaking of OHS, the floating staircase that magically appears from a curved wall is an incredible effect and looks extremely dangerous, especially for an actor wearing a mask!

      • It was actually 2011 we saw MP on Broadway, along with How to Succeed In Business….with Daniel Radcliffe in the main role. The 2nd visit to NYC we didn’t see anything as there was nothing we really wanted to see except perhaps Bette Midler in Dolly – but it was sold out the week we were in the city! How time flies! CJH

      • I also saw Mr Radcliffe in How to Succeed! I directed that show 2019. Terrific music.
        I was lucky enough to see Bette Midler as Dolly – I am a big one for obsessively planning and buying tickets in advance. Would love to see Hello, Dolly! back in a big lavish production in Melbourne. Can only dream!

  3. Tick Tick on Hello Dolly.
    I still have fond memories of the Jill Perryman production …..mid 90s ?
    …..but add Adelaide to any Dolly tour please LOL !

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