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Kiran Gupta reviews Mary Poppins at Sydney’s Lyric Theatre.
The last time I saw Mary Poppins, I was 12 years old. It was one of my first shows and I didn’t really understand theatre. But even then, I was amazed by the effects, the cast and the story. For children, it really does transport them into another world.
Attending over a decade later as an adult, I looked at the show through very different eyes. While there were plenty of adults and couples in the audience, a large number were children, likely experiencing theatre for the first time. When Mary Poppins came out, there was an audible gasp around the room, with children looking on in amazement. As she flew around all angles of the stage, the awe for the children continued and the energy was palpable. It truly is a perfect first show for children getting into theatre.
That said, coming back after nearly a decade, how would the show compare with 10+ years more of theatre-going experience? I think it is safe to say that, although perhaps I am no longer the intended audience, the magic is certainly still there.
Set in London during the Great Depression, the musical has a particularity to it (order and precision, am I right?) This means that the cast has to be tight and note-perfect as even the slightest imperfection will be noticed. Of course, this is even more difficult when two of the leading characters are primary-school age children. In saying that, I was mightily impressed with just how tight the cast were. They were completely in sync throughout, the ensemble moving and singing in complete unison and not missing a beat. Entries, exits and cut-offs were all precise and complete with crisp British accents. While the leads were stunning, the ensemble’s precision and attention to detail was what took this show to the next level.
And what about the leads? Stefanie Jones was show-stopping in her portrayal of Mary Poppins. Her voice soared through the theatre, aimlessly switching between a classical and more modern theatre tone. She commanded the stage with her presence, coming across as an authoritative yet caring figure (just as Mary Poppins) should be. Tom Wren and Lucy Maunder were excellent as the Banks parents and Noah Missell brought a wonderful sense of innocence and inquisitiveness to his portrayal of Bert. Theatre legend Nancye Hayes AM received one of the biggest cheers of the night for her emotional portrayal of the Bird Woman.
But the most notable mention must go to the two children, Amara Kavaliku and William Steiner. To remain focussed and committed to such demanding roles for nearly three and a half hours at their age is jaw-dropping. Their singing was excellent and their dancing was precise at every point. They did not look in the slightest nervous and were fully committed to their characters throughout. Given the central focus on the Banks children throughout the show, Kavaliku and Steiner’s portrayals had the potential to make or break the show. In this case, they brought the house down.
The band was also excellent (how good is it to hear a live theatre band again?), combining well to perfectly complement the actors on stage. Sound quality, lighting and costuming were also excellent throughout. Set design was solid however, at times, I did wish that more creative license had been taken. While Mary Poppins is a well-known musical with established tropes, there was perhaps still a little room for innovation which could have enhanced the performance slightly more. That said, the stagecraft of the performers and the stunts were seamless and certainly awe-inspiring for the children (and adults!) in the audience.
So, in the end, what’s the verdict? There’s something for everyone at this production of Mary Poppins. While children will be amazed and inspired, the quality of the production means that adults will thoroughly enjoy themselves too. There is something for everyone at the Lyric Theatre at the moment, after all, doesn’t everyone need a spoonful of sugar every now and again?
Mary Poppins is currently playing at Sydney’s Lyric Theatre. Tickets are available here.