Once again, expectations were exceeded. I was gobsmacked by the technical aspects of this show.
I first saw the original musical starring the incomparable Julie Andrews when I was about 11 yrs old and thereafter every single Christmas Day afternoon (along with The Sound of Music; Billy Smart’s Circus and “Morecombe and Wise” – losing a few of you here I guess).
With each passing year came a growing realisation that there was “something really quite atrocious” about Dick Van Dyke’s accent. Playing cheeky chappy “Burt” not as a cockney “sweep” but as an alien from another planet – his phony british accent was so grating that my husband won’t watch the film EVER again, let alone go and see the show!
So with little expectation and a faint concern that the whole cast might sound like Dick Van Dyke (10 of the cast were Canadian) I booked a cheap seat (I mean cheap I was right at the top and right at the back with my head wedged against the wall and my knees wedged under my chin)
Initially I thought the orchestration of the songs was thin, weak and one dimensional, lacking the rich layers and soaring “Julie Andrews harmonizations” of the original musical. This lack of musical texture left the stage feeling a little empty. To my less than professional ear, the musical arrangement seemed to be in need of beefing up. However Rachel Wallace (not actually British) who played the lead role of Mary Poppins was so “Julie Andrews” in manner and voice that she managed to patch up the holes.
Quirky choreography – of note: the SUPERCALIFRAGALISTICEXPIALIDOCIOUS scene was remarkable. Each syllable of the above was accompanied by a distinct set of hand movements and performed en-mass by the whole cast. We’re talking a whacky combination of Madonna’s “Vogue” – on speed – and semaphore. My God those must have taken some learning and the 30 or so members of the cast performing it were totally in sync. It also had a reprise appearance in the finale much to the obvious delight of the audience.
Lots of wire/hydraulic work made the show more three dimensional and less flat than normal stage performances, especially when during the culminating scene where Mary came to visit us in the cheap seats; sailing with her brolly right out into the audience and up to the upper balcony – I’m wondering how an earth that passed any sort of health and safety legislation let alone the cost of the insurance. Also amusing was the scene where Burt walks up the wall, along the ceiling where he hangs around to sing a bit and back down the wall. They leads also spent a significant amount of the show delivering their lines from roof tops!
Glorious magical starry scenes; magnificent costumes and stage colour palettes for each of the scenes ( One almost forgets that the set designers are working to tight budgets).
Almost every scene ended with a staged tableau of the all the members of that scene. They paused just long enough for you to appreciate the full splendour of the costumes and the props, a sort of dramatic punctuation – it reminded me of those “staged” group photo sessions of the mid 1800’s.
“Feed the Birds” – how can that not be everyone’s favourite song EVER – I always did get goosebumps with the opening strains of this scene and last night was no excception. All the favorites – I’d forgotten how many there were: It’s a Jolly Holiday; Practically Perfect; Being Mrs Banks; A Spoonful of Sugar etc. Like being 11 yrs old again.
Take your kids, take your Granny or just take yourself: this makes a marvelous alternative this time of year to the family Pantomime. It’s on at the princess of Wales theatre till January 8, 2012
Over and out