WORTH A LOOK?: ****1/2
WHERE? Prince Edward Theatre RUNTIME: 170 minutes (including 20-minute interval)
WHEN? 23/10, press night 13/11, runs to 29/3/20
This production is a revival of the show which ran at this very venue for more than three years and closed in January 2008 after winning a Tony and two Oliviers including Best Actress for then-titular star Laura Michelle Kelly.
- Read on for reasons including how Zizi Strallen fares as Mary Poppins
We saw that musical re-imagining of the original 1964 Disney film starring Julie Andrews and our interest has been re-awakened in its revival thanks to the glorious Mary Poppins Returns which took flight in cinemas last Christmas.
In many ways it’s business as usual for this venue which has just bid farewell to Disney’s Aladdin musical which ran for over three years at the Prince Edward Theatre.
Fans of the recent triumphant Downton Abbey film may be delighted that its author Julian Fellowes (sitting a row in front of us at this 1st preview) also wrote the script here but it is the familiar songs: Chim Chim Cher-ee, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious and A Spoonful Of Sugar that are most likely to thrill.
We last saw Strallen in the West End in Strictly Ballroom and her Poppins is a delight, always moving with head held high and with umbrella outstretched before her as if negotiating a tightrope.
Charlie Stemp was shortlisted for an Olivier for his starring role in Half A Sixpence and at one point his Bert here performs an aerial feat so apparently dangerous that we feared for his safety.
Both Strallen and Stemp are as comfortable dancing and acting (Stemp, in particular, oozes the cheeky charm so apparent in Sixpence) as they are with the many and varied aerial stunts.
For those unfamiliar with the plot it is the story of children Jane and Michael (Gabriel Payne especially mischievous at this preview) Banks, their nanny Mary Poppins and the effect she has on them and their parents (Joseph Millson strong as the uptight financier and Amy Griffiths sympathetic as his long-suffering wife).
Petula Clark was suitably world weary as the Bird Woman, Claire Machin makes the most of the best lines as harassed cook Mrs Brill and Claire Moore is a menacing ‘Brimstone And Treacle’ Nanny to Poppins’ ‘Spoonful Of Sugar’.
Song Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious is an all-singing, all-dancing showstopper with hugely entertaining choreography almost only upstaged by the elaborate set design. The complicated staging resulted in a brief unexpected pause during this preview but there’s plenty of time to iron things out before the opening.
With Christmas approaching, this is a fun family show with a big heart which is the perfect alternative to a pantomime.