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Theatre: Mary Poppins

Lyric Theatre, QPAC

I had the pleasure of seeing the Disney stage musical twice this season. It’s a lot of fun, and you’ll most certainly leave humming the tunes. But it’s not practically perfect in every way.

Production values are supercalifragilisticexpialidocious and then some, and the show’s design (Bob Crowley) is the finest QPAC’s ever hosted. An intricate series of unfolding dollhouses forms the set, which is equipped for some very impressive Disney magic. There were some flabbergasting effects with wires — but I won’t spoil the surprise. The costumes (again, Crowley), are gorgeous.

Most of Mary Poppins’ principal cast cast are fantastic, particularly Philip Quast as George Banks, Pippa Grandison as Mrs Banks, and Debra Byrne as The Bird Woman. Sally-Anne Upton is perfect for the role of Mrs Brill, the housekeeper.

“Uncanny nannies are hard to find,” as the song goes, and Verity Hunt-Ballard in the lead role is certainly uncanny — uncannily like Harry Potter’s Professor Umbridge, with her shrill voice and smug smile (see photos here and here for comparison). She kind of freaked me out — but the stage production’s Mary is very different from the film’s. Stage-Mary is magical, but narcissistic.

Though Matt Lee’s dancing is sound, he lacks charisma as Bert. His role is mostly to provide unnecessary narration, and his “sweet gentility” is never “crystal clear” at all. He’s more of a Buttons than a Bert.

Similarly, the production’s new libretto (Anthony Drewe) lacks the zeal and wit of the original — though the score itself is great. And don’t expect anything progressive from Disney; Mrs Banks certainly doesn’t allow herself interests outside of the family, even when Mr Banks gives her permission — she’s “no good” at her hobbies anyway. Walt hovers over the stage pulling the strings.

Still, I decided to just go with it, and I had a ball. My advice is not to think too hard.

Here are David Wyatt’s colourful photographs of Crowley’s exquisite costumes and stage design — my favourite part of the production.

Three and a half semicolons for Mary Poppins, which runs until March 17. ; ; ; :

Call 136 246 or visit http://www.qpac.com.au for tickets.

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