Mary Poppins. Presented by The Court Theatre, Christchurch. Co-Director/Choreographer Stephen Robertson, Co-Director Ross Gumbley. Musical Director Richard Marrett. 21 November 2015 – 30 January 2016. Reviewed by Kineta Knight Booker.
Watching a musical after the cast has put on over 60 performances, while expecting them to be as fresh as opening night and they deliver, shows the absolute endurance of a company.
The Court Theatre’s summer season is New Zealand’s first ever professional production of the Disney Broadway musical. And, to be fair, it could have gone either way. If you think of the big stages with extremely large theatres, seating hundreds upon hundreds of excited theatre-goers this show would be used to, compared to the intimate setting of The Court, there’s quite a difference. But boy did it work.
Having seen this production on Broadway, one can’t help but compare. However, sitting there mesmerised by The Court’s version, I somehow found myself lost in the magical world of Mary (Laura Bunting) and her chimney-sweep friend Bert (Jan Di Pietro). When Bunting and Di Pietro are on stage, Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke are long gone from your mind, as they bring their very own portrayal of these characters to the show. Bunting has a stunning stage presence and beautiful voice, and Di Pietro’s charm and wit shines through like none other.
The musical is staged with intelligence – what a team Robertson and Gumbley make. Their company numbers (of which there are many) were choreographed with expert guidance, and the skill of the performers was exceptional. In a normal run of this show, where usually there’d be an orchestra pit and possibly dozens of other rows of theatre-goers in the way, with The Court’s version the stage is so very close, however, never confrontational, but always spell-binding.
Other notable moments were the famous Feed the Birds scene, played by Lucy Porter, and the arrival (and departure!) of the unpleasant Miss Andrew, who was portrayed wonderfully by Angela Johnson. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious was rich and vibrant (thanks to Robertson’s costume designs and choreography), and Step in Time was truly mesmerising.
The only downside to this performance, which was driven perfectly by Richard Marrett’s orchestra, was when it was time to leave the theatre, back to a reality without Mary Poppins. Even Mary’s flying exit was “practically perfect in every way”. The Court Theatre have truly put on the biggest and brightest summer show yet, but just how will they top it next Christmas?