Review: Mary Poppins (Sydney Lyric Theatre)

Venue: Sydney Lyric Theatre (Sydney NSW), May 15 – Sep 4, 2022
Book: Julian Fellowes (based on stories by P.L. Travers and the Disney film)
Original Music and Lyrics: Richard M. Sherman, Robert B. Sherman
New Songs and Additional Music: George Stiles
New Songs and Additional Lyrics: Anthony Drewe
Director: Richard Eyre
Cast: Stefanie Jones, Jack Chambers, Tom Wren, Lucy Maunder, Mia Honeysett, Finn Walsham, Nancye Hayes, Hannah Waterman, Robert Grubb, Chelsea Plumley, Gareth Isaac
Images by Daniel Boud

Theatre review
Time and again, obscene amounts of money are thrown at turning legendary films into live musicals, but rarely do they meet the public’s expectations. Mary Poppins however is an unequivocal success story, not only able to live up to the loving memory that many have retained of the original, it uses its magical themes to advance the theatrical arts, especially in terms of special visual effects.

We watch the fantastical world in Disney’s 1964 film come to vibrant life, right before our eyes, complete with gravity defying performers and hallucinatory scenery. All the trickery is wonderfully amusing of course, but the show never lets these gimmicks get in the way of storytelling, which thankfully remains central to the extravagant production.

It is a tremendously lavish presentation, one that urges us to see that no expense is spared, yet it is the ingenuity and inventiveness behind these incredible vistas that truly impress. Also satisfying is the music, some of which are from the 58 year-old film, and some created for the 2004 Broadway premiere. Even at varying degrees of familiarity, every song is engrossing, able to hold us captive and entertained for nearly three hours of spectacular pleasure.

Performer Stefanie Jones is radiant in the eponymous role, completely at ease with the highly technical requirements of this challenging part. Her discipline and precision put us at ease, as we lose ourselves in all the bedazzling and rambunctious action. Playing Bert the chimney sweep, is the enchanting Jack Chambers, whose agility and exuberance steal the show. Completely unperturbed even when tap dancing upside down and metres above, Chambers’ infectious joy on stage reels us in, and has us luxuriating in every blissful moment he offers.

Bringing heart and soul to the production are Tom Wren and Lucy Maunder, as Mr and Mrs Banks. Both performers prove adept at portraying more tender aspects of the story, and it is that poignancy they deliver, that earns our emotional investment. The Banks children are played by Mia Honeysett and Finn Walsham, who demonstrate a remarkable commitment and professionalism that belie their ages. Their work is consistently compelling, and both prove to be highly accomplished in each of their demanding roles.

The nanny Mary Poppins comes into the lives of the Banks family, and then swiftly departs. So much of what we experience on this plane, is transitory, In Mary Poppins the musical, we see merriment and sadness, along with success and hardship. We have to take the good with the bad, for without the contrast of one against the other, what we treasure most will not be able to reveal its true lustre. Knowing that life will never be forever smooth-sailing, keeps us humble, and knowing that troubles come to an end, is a reassurance that forever bears repeating.