Mary Poppins is the ultimate musical for the whole family


To use some of the word in one of the show’s most famous songs, Mary Poppins the musical is supercalifragilistic! ‘Mary’ flew into Yorkshire last week and has put down her famous parrot head umbrella at The Bradford Alhambra until December 10.

I have to admit I have never been a big fan of Disney – in fact as a child I detested everything Disney much preferring to go to the theatre to watch classical ballet, musicals and traditional pantomimes. I found everything from Disney  both upsetting and scary  much preferring the over the top scariness of Sir Robert Helpmann and Sir Frederick Ashton in their quintessential character roles in ballet. As I got older I began to see the dark side of Disney magnified on the cold and large cinema screen. Every tale has a rather dark side including Mary Poppins in the broken toy scene and ‘Playing the Game’ number.

I am often rather sceptical about a film transferring to the stage because sometimes it works and sometimes quite the opposite. However in the case of Mary it certainly works beautifully – in fact, I have to say the the stage version is far more appealing that the film.Cameron Mackintosh has kept the story true to the original with super Nanny Mary coming mysteriously to Edwardian London to sort out the lives of the Banks family. On the way we meet chirpy chappie Bert, who scrubs up well as a chimney sweep and all sorts of wonderful larger than life characters from come-alive statues to dusty-fusty members of a banks board of governors.

As the enigmatic super-nanny Mary, Zizi Strallen is superb, She gives her own interpretation of Mary thank goodness and doesn’t try to play Julie Andrews playing Mary Poppins. Strallen is appealing and convincing, dances like a dream, is vocally strong and everything Mary should be.

Matt Lee’s Bert, is on par with Dick Van Dyke although his cockney accent is better, although his Australian accent  (it’s the ‘a’ vowel and I should know spending a large part of my life in ABC radio there) does at time come through strongly at times. But what his odd bit of diction lacks his dancing makes up for. At times he reminds me  of a  young James Cagney in dance technique and stature.  But like Strallen he has a great stage charisma which sees both their enormous talent and personalities come through.

Great characterizations come from Neil Roberts and Rebecca Lock as Mr and Mrs Banks,  Penelope Woodman as a foreboding governess, Grainne Reniham as the Bird Woman and Graham Hoadly as the admiral and bank chairman.But the night belongs to the hard working ensemble who sing, dance and change their persona as often as their costumes and makeup. The Step in Time Number is the finest tap routine to have graced the Alhambra stage for a long time and as an ex-dancer I can tell you its not an easy piece of choreography or music to negotiate.

The musical numbers are staged with set and lighting changes are seamless so when fantasy takes over it really does as in the Jolly Holiday number where the whole stage is washed in such wonderful pastels and brights whilst the Victorian like dolls house set adds another dimension to the production as does the clever and inspirational lighting.With exciting choreography that has true style and unbelievable visual effects this one is the ultimate musical for the whole family.

Liz Coggins


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