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Having dazzled millions globally, the world’s favourite nanny has finally flown in on her magical umbrella, and touched down at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne. Last week, I was invited by Tourism Victoria to attend a preview performance of the local version of hit Broadway musical, Mary Poppins.

My memories of the much loved 1964 Walt Disney film are rather sketchy, but I was still curious to discover how well the movie magic of Cherry Tree Lane would translate to the stage. The big budget production has great pedigree, being a collaboration between Disney and Cameron Macintosh. The plot of the first half is very familiar, as are many of the songs. The second half wanders into territory uncharted by the movie, drawing its subject matter from P.L Travers’ other beloved books, which definitely keeps things interesting. The array of brand new songs that punctuate this family-friendly drama are charming and could quite easily become just as timeless as the likes of Chim Chim Cheree, Spoonful of Sugar and Jolly Holiday.

In the title role, Verity Hunt-Ballard gives Julie Andrews a serious run for her money and is pretty much flawless throughout (or ‘Practically Perfect’ as she puts it herself.) Matt Lee was likeable in the role of Bert, and manages to nail the ‘cheeky-chappie’ cockney persona. Australian musical theatre’s first lady Marina Prior is fantastic as the somewhat down-trodden, excitement craving Mrs Banks, whilst Philip Quast balances her out perfectly as the stern, emotionally unavailable family patriarch. Meanwhile, Sally Anne Upton and  Christopher Rickerby provide laughs and slapstick as servants Mrs Brill and Robertson Ay respectively, whilst Judi Connelli terrifies as the ‘other’ nanny and ‘anti-Mary Poppins’, the dragon-like Miss Andrew.

The show includes moments of magic that take place before your very eyes that genuinely leave you wondering ‘How did they do that?’ The set cleverly and flawlessly transports you from location to location. The entire cast performs with gusto and energy throughout. A rousing, life-affirming version of Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious was a definite highlight, as was the moment at the very end of the show when Mary Poppins took off for the last time, literally flying off the stage, over the audience and disappearing into the ceiling!

This is a show that celebrates the importance of family and the joys of childhood. Although there were certain moments that seemed a bit ‘sickly sweet’ and the plot was entirely predictable, I suspect it would have been a bit disappointing if this wasn’t the case. It was certainly a crowd pleaser. The theatre was full of big and little kids aged anywhere from three to ninety-three, and it’s pretty safe to say that after the curtain fell they all went home grinning from ear to ear.

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