Mary Poppins

Written on December 4th, 2019

Magic and Delight

Having seen the Disney version of Mary Poppins many times over the years, I was pleased to have this opportunity to see the Disney and Cameron MacKintosh’s stage musical.  The movie was a magical escape, and that magic is wonderfully recreated at the Grand Theatre in London.

This play is perfectly staged, with flying, top-notch acting and singing, and yet you can almost feel the chill in the air and the drabness of the rain.  The set brings you back to the harsher, sterner times of Edwardian England.  Costumes are modest in design and colour.  The curtain is cleverly used as fog, and the oversized walls reflect shadows of the birds and the rain. There is just enough comic relief, magic and beloved music to chase away the gloom.

Deborah Hay is flawless as Mary Poppins.  I imagine author P. L. Travers would approve of this Mary.  She is no-nonsense and stern yet with a hint of playfulness and softness that makes her likeable to the children. The stage magic is brilliant for live theatre. As in the movie, Mary pulls the impossibly long coat rack, tall plant and large mirror from her bag. She flies and disappears up the chimney, and brings toys and a statue to life. 

Mark Uhre is the kindly chimney sweep, artist, and general handyman Bert.  A well-loved character, he supports his dear friend Mary and helps bring the mischievous children safely home after they run away.  Bert is most memorable for his wonderful dancing and singing, which Uhre performs phenomenally.

Ben Carlson plays the stern Mr. Banks, who is forced to re-examine his life when his decisions at the bank put his job at risk.  Carlson believably softens the character as life throws him challenges and shows him that his family is more important than his career.  (It’s interesting to note that Carlson and Hay are married, and nice to see them together on stage as they were in Stratford’s Much Ado About Nothing and The Taming of the Shrew.)

Winifred Banks, played by Alexis Gordon, has a more substantial part than in the movie version, as she struggles with her role in the family.

The children are played by Hayden Baertsoen and Abi Verhaeghe.  These are challenging roles for such young people but their performances are excellent.  The minor characters are quite memorable, including Robertson Ay (Giovanni Spina), Mrs. Brill (Phoebe Hu), and Neleus, the statue, (Jak Barradell).  The actor playing Miss Andrew also plays the Bird Woman, demonstrating her versatility.  Miss Andrew is a frightful character, whereas the Bird Woman is quite endearing.

The music in Mary Poppins is always a joy.  I could hear members of the audience singing along to tunes such as “Chim Chim Cher-ee” and “Spoonful of Sugar.”  The British accents are performed well by the entire cast and are quite believable.

Mary Poppins is the perfect for family entertainment.  The Grand’s website offers a detailed yet fun-looking study guide which gives some background on the Mary Poppins story, ideas for discussion, and even teaches you how to build a kite.  There is also an activity booklet for children in the lobby.

Mary Poppins continues until December 29 on the Spriet Stage at the Grand Theatre, London, Ontario.  Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 519-672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593 or visit www.grandtheatre.com.

PhotoDeborah Hay as Mary Poppins. Photo by Mallory Brown.

Mary Poppins
Directed by Megan Watson
Musical Direction by Craig Fair
Choreography by Stephen Coda
Performed by Christy Adamson, Hayden Baertsoen, Jak Barradell, Ben Carlson, Michael Cox, Alexis Gordon, Josh Graetz, Deborah Hay, Phoebe Hu, Heather Kosik, Jamie Murray, Shakeil Rollock, Antonette Rudder, Jan Alexandra Smith, Giovanni Spina, Mark Uhre, Abi Verhaeghe, Sandy Winsby, Robert Yeretch
Produced by The Grand Theatre, London
Nov 26 to Dec 29
Reviewed by Vicki Stokes

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