Stage review: Mary Poppins

By Annemarie Quill

It was a night to go fly a kite. A squally Auckland wind whipped up the red carpet at the premiere of Mary Poppins.

The Civic Theatre had a lot to live up to as host of the New Zealand production of the musical that has bagged 44 global awards and entertained more than 10 million people worldwide.

With ticket prices up to $145, this show had a lot to deliver. It didn't disappoint, with almost three hours of exuberant choreography, sumptuous sets of enchanting Edwardian scenes, and show-stealing stunts that saw characters flying, tap-dancing on ceilings and pulling flowers out of paintings.

Based on the books by P.L. Travers and the 1964 Walt Disney film, the plot has modern relevance. The original supernanny, Mary Poppins, flies in with her umbrella to mend a dysfunctional family. The cold, materialistic Mr Banks takes his wife for granted and ignores his children - a character that may guiltily resonate with modern-day parents. Mary Poppins (New York actor Rachel Wallace) and her cheeky chimneysweep beau Bert (Matt Lee, of Australia's So You Think You Can Dance) introduce the family to a world of magical dreams.

Through a series of life lessons (the moralising becomes a saccharine spoonful of Disney), the family rediscover themselves.

With energetic and spirited choreography, Lee was a standout in numbers such as Step in Time, where you could feel the audience holding its breath, I couldn't take my eyes off the brattish Jane, played with depth and maturity.

The audience of Auckland's glitterati (we spotted the Ridges, Colin Mathura-Jeffree, Denise L'Estrange Corbet and Elizabeth Marvelly among the array of neon dresses and Prada specs) gave a standing ovation.

My 9-year-old daughter and I practically skipped out of the theatre, humming Chim Chim Cheree. My daughter keeps talking about how she saw up Mary's skirt as she flew over us, but adults may reflect on what a joy it is to be thrilled like a child again.

The only brimstone and treacle in the evening was that The Civic Theatre staff seemed to struggle to direct the excited audience to their seats and we were shut out of the first 20 minutes of the show.

Mary Poppins, The Civic, Auckland. Tickets at Ticketmaster

- Hamilton News

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