If you have never heard of Mary Poppins before, and please excuse me if I sound a little melodramatic, a part of me is slightly devastated for your childhood. Written as a series of eight children’s books by Pamela Travers between 1934 to 1988, and then famously brought to life by Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke in Disney’s live action and animated musical in 1964, Mary Poppins is the story of the dysfunctional Banks family who are graced with the presence of a beautiful, mysterious yet stern nanny who sets out to bring order to the chaotic household.
Set mostly on the fictional street of Cherry Tree Lane, this adaptation of the musical is surprisingly not based solely on the movie, of which the vast majority of us would mostly be familiar with. Instead, it is based more on the book series and the first 2004 Broadway musical by theatrical producer Cameron Mackintosh, with only some elements drawn from the movie. However, fear not movie lovers, there are still many familiar scenes and songs to sing along to as this particular production progresses.
In fact, decades after learning the story of Mary Poppins through the sugary Disney adaptation, the Artsclub production did an astounding job of making me, and I’m sure many other audience members realize that Poppins never swooped in to save their children from their father, who seems completely incapable of love. Instead, it teaches us that the magical nanny is there to save Mr. Banks – from himself, from his frightening upbringing, and from losing the people who love him the most. This is the version that Travers had really intended on sharing with the world through her books.
When it comes to Mary Poppins and her jack-of-all-trades friend Bert, the actors that we would most associate with those characters are of course the legendary Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. One would assume that it would be extremely difficult to fill the shoes of these two beloved actors however, Kayla James and Scott Walters do so with complete simplicity. James plays a perfect no nonsense, slightly austere, intriguing Poppins, with a beautiful commanding voice that would give Julie Andrews herself a run for her money. Walters was also an exceptionally flawless choice to play Bert. He managed to pull off the character’s cheeky, laid back, happy go lucky character complete with a strong cockney accent with convincing ease. He also bewilderingly bears a striking resemblance to a young, handsome Dick Van Dyke, which made for an even more fitting choice. Elizabeth Irving and Glen Gordon were fantastic as Jane and Michael Banks, the misbehaved but kind-hearted children who are finding it difficult to forge a relationship with their seemingly emotionless father. Milo Shandel plays Mr. Banks incredibly and does a wonderful job of transitioning from the expected cold, distant businessman to the lost soul that Mr. Banks really is.
The story itself was well played out with a touch of magic in the form of colourful storybook backdrops, lit up by sparkling stars or artificial sunlight casting shadows of leaves through invisible trees. Mary Poppins and Bert perform some remarkable gravity defying scenes with the help of the wiring department, and what I can only imagine to be great balancing techniques on the part of the actors.
Despite the intended darker storyline behind Mary Poppins, this play still managed to be charmingly delightful and very family friendly. Glancing around the theatre, there was not one person of any age who didn’t have a smile plastered on their face during some of the more upbeat musical numbers. Everything from the costumes and set design to the singing and dancing will bring you right back to your childhood, and you will leave the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage with all-time favorite songs like Chim Chim Cher-ee, Step in Time, and of course, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, stuck in your mind for the next little while.
Mary Poppins is now running at Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage until January 1, 2017. Buy your tickets here.