Mary Poppins, Hippodrome, Birmingham

 

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One of my earliest memories of cinema going as a child is a trip to see Mary Poppins. It was a magical story then, and that magic has endured. The stage show is not a transposition of the film to stage, but instead from book to stage, offering quite marked differences in nuance.

This is a big show; big ticket prices, big set, big effects, big cast and big PR. sometimes these creations become a bloated mess. Not here though.

Lavish from start to finish, the roll call of supporting creatives is pretty much a who’s who of Musical Theatre. All of them deliver. Producer Cameron Mackintosh is the undisputed King of contemporary musicals and his experience, and deft touch, grips the show from start to finish.

Sir Mathew Bourne is the best choreographer working today and the two key big production numbers, “ Supercalifragalisticexpealidotious”  and “Step in Time” are as good as anything that you will see on stage. Curiously, “Chim, chim, Cheroo” never moves to a big chorus, instead being used as a solo, and reprise with backing singing, rather than a full throttle ensemble piece.

Zizi Strallen delivers as the eponymous heroine. Aloof, mysterious, and  a little remote, but loveable and endearing too. She performs to the entire, large auditorium, drawing everyone into her magic, and sings beautifully.

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For this show, understudy Adam Rhys-Charles  took the part of Bert, and acquitted himself well with no sign of nerves putting to bed the eccentric performance, and accent, of Dick Van Dyke in the film, offering character, enthusiasm and vim.

The show, including interval, runs to two and three quarter hours, with the first half being an unusually long eighty five minutes. This has the advantage of leaving no-one with a sense of feeling short changed, but the disadvantage of being at the limits of the attention span of younger children.

Visually, not only are the set pieces a delight, but the special effects dazzle as well, as Mary Poppins glides over the heads of the audience and Bert scales the walls and ceiling of the auditorium Spiderman- style.

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I found the narrative surrounding Mr Banks, Poppins’ employer, and his banking difficulties, a little clunky, despite hugely impressive banking hall  scenery .The pace slowed to a dawdle and there was little dramatic tension. But fortunately, in this show, you are never far away from a song leaving that reservation soon forgotten.

As a spectacular Mary Poppins delivers in pretty much every category. It may lack the intimacy and personal pull of Annie, but makes up for it in blousey front. It continues at the Hippodrome to 23rd

April and then stays on tour at Edinburgh ,Southampton, and beyond till January 2017.

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