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Mary Poppins The Broadway Musical - Review

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by Kiesten McCauley (subscribe)
My early career was in teaching, writing, producing and directing for theatre, comedy and impro shows. Now I'm a professional creative person. Mostly high-end branding, strategy, writing, editing and digital content creation.
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Magical Musical Delights Audiences
Mary, poppins, Sheldon, college, Australian, school, arts, Redland, musical
Marvellous Mary Poppins Production Plays Redlands. Image by Cameron March.

[p]"Practically perfect in every way…" is a precisely accurate five-word review of The Australian School of the Arts' production of Mary Poppins The Broadway Musical.

It's a brave director that decides to stage a legacy musical such as this. Even those not familiar with the stage show have probably seen the Disney film at least once in their lives. Darren Harvey is clearly a director who understands the gravity of bringing P.L. Travers' heroine back to an audience that approaches the show with a multitude of expectations.

"When you do a legacy musical you've got a large part of your audience who are coming in with preconceived ideas," Mr Harvey confessed, "So what I think is most important is that you're truthful to the original text and how it was intended to be."

"At the end of the day people want to come along and see Mary Poppins fly in and they want to see her fix things in a magical sense and they want to see (big) things come out of bags and they want to see all those sorts of things."

"We're very true to the narrative and very true to the original Broadway and West End show."

The Australian School of the Arts, under Harvey's direction, presented an exceptionally professional show. It was easy to forget, during viewing, that the dancers, singers, actors and triple threats on stage were high school students. It was truly immersive and captivating. Perhaps it was due to the ninety live performers, including a full orchestra and team of backing vocalists, giving it 100% (and then some).

Enthusiastic performances aside, the show was packed with stage hands, lighting, sound and costuming that audiences would expect from an internationally touring musical commanding triple-figure ticket prices. Mary Poppins The Broadway Musical was a testament to The Australian School of the Arts' audition based 'professional' arts excellence program.

Mary, poppins, Sheldon, college, Australian, school, arts, Redland, musical
You Can Bank on Mary Popins Being a Fun Show. Image by Cameron March.

What was the music like?

Almost always outstanding. Yes, there was the odd off note from one or two performers, but one expects a live show to have the occasional, small hiccup. There was just something so wonderful about having a full, live orchestra in the room with us. Not to mention the fourteen backing vocalists. Their singing was an absolute highlight and yet, they didn't steal focus from the narrative. Occasionally the orchestra drowned out the performers, despite them sporting head-worn microphones, but those moments were rare. Fortunately, Mary hit all the right high notes.

Mary, poppins, Sheldon, college, Australian, school, arts, Redland, musical
Mary and the Banks Children Sing Beautifully Together. Image by Cameron March.

Which performers stood out the most?

The show would not have been as enjoyable as it was if it weren't for the beautiful Chloe Crick as Mary. Her singing, dancing and acting was completely on point. Chloe made her professional debut as one of the orphans in Annie at QPAC in 2012. In 2014 she had a feature role in West Side Story. It wasn't only her professional experience that landed her the coveted role.

"She's an outstanding young performer. She's an incredibly hard worker and somebody who I know is going to go on to do great things in the industry," Mr Harvey said, "When she came into the audition, she, at the end of the day gave us absolutely no choice but to cast her."

"She just owned the role right from the start. She came in with decisions and ideas. She came in with a very clear concept of who Mary was and what her journey is in the show right from the very first audition."

Short of some kind of natural or unnatural disaster or all the casting directors in the world developing terrible taste and foresight, in this reviewer's opinion we'll be seeing more of Ms Crick in musical theatre in the future.

Mary, poppins, Sheldon, college, Australian, school, arts, Redland, musical
Everything's More Colourful When Mary's Around. Image by Cameron March.

Aside from Mary, Emmerson McMillan as 'The Bird Lady' brought tears to the eyes with her beautiful singing and nuanced acting in Feed the Birds. Kyle Colburn as Bert was a reliable support to Mary and didn't try to outshine his fellow cast. While Jack Vernon as George Banks showed acting maturity beyond his years, handling the seriousness of an Edwardian gentleman on the brink of losing it all.

"The story's all about George Banks. We were very, very keen to ensure that George's journey was very clear to the audience and the significant shift in George's life comes just because Mary Poppins comes to town," Mr Harvey said, "When he makes the shift the entire family changes and everybody is happy again. When casting it we were looking for somebody who could play serious as well as light."

Mary, poppins, Sheldon, college, Australian, school, arts, Redland, musical
No Good Show's Complete without a Baddie! Image by Cameron March.

What about the set, lights and sound?

Much must be said of the digital set design.

"I wanted it to be like P.L. Travers' original books," Mr Harvey revealed, "I wanted to see it (the set) sketched in charcoal and then saturated with colour when Mary enters the room."

Set changes were instantaneous, and because the medium was digital, the set could include animation. This directorial decision added another level of magic to the show. It gave such wide scope for special effects to really meet the audience's expectations of the enchantress, Poppins. The timing of the lighting design worked seamlessly with the animated digital sets. Sound effects were very effective and non-intrusive.

Mary, poppins, Sheldon, college, Australian, school, arts, Redland, musical
A Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Show. Image by Cameron March.

Were there any decent laughs in the show?

Comedically speaking, a few of the jokes in the script fell a little flat. There were, however, plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. Every one of Michael Banks' funny lines was delivered with excellent comic timing by Joshua Thompson, one of only two middle college students in the cast.

"We don't normally have younger students or middle college students in our senior musical, so it was nice we were able to give him the opportunity and the show called for it," enthused Mr Harvey.

Joshua was ably supported by April Beak as Jane Banks. Their vocals worked well when performing songs together and they had lovely teamwork as actors. William Stewart as Miss Euphemia Andrew was a crowd comedy favourite, getting the biggest laughs of the night. Stewart may have milked a couple of moments a little longer than required, but his commitment to the absurdism of the horrible character is to be commended.

mary, poppins, redland, performing, arts, theatre, musical
Mary Poppins Knows How to Make an Entrance! Image by Cameron March.

One of the biggest stars of the show was the magic, much of which was built into the very clever set design. Fly wires and special effects worthy of a David Copperfield show, really added that 'wow' factor. Keen viewers of Penn and Teller Fool Us might have been able to work out how Mary managed to pull a full length mirror, a palm tree and a hat stand out of her carpet bag. What was harder to conceive was how they managed to have the Banks children sucked up suddenly into the chimney.

Darren Harvey says, when pressed on the special effect, "Oh, that? It was magic."

Yes, Mister Harvey. It certainly was magic.
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Why? It's Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious
When: Matinees 2pm, Evenings 7.30pm
Phone: 3829 8131
Where: Redland Performing Arts Centre
Cost: $25 - $35 plus booking fees
Your Comment
Was the baddie' an addition to the musical, because there aren't really any true baddies in Mary Poppins. The picture reminds me of the old homeless crone that grabbed the children while they were running away from the bank, but she was only in it for a moment.
by Bryony Harrison (score: 4|12604) 1254 days ago
I remember seeing the Disney movie when I was a kid and thoroughly loving it so I'm sure this musical will be a hit with young and old alike.
by Gayle Beveridge (score: 3|8038) 1248 days ago
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