Friday, 6 November 2020

REVIEW: Mary Poppins: Live at the Prince Edward Theatre, 2020 Cast Recording

Live albums of any genre always pack an extra punch, and musical cast recordings are no exception. Cameron Mackintosh seems particularly fond of this approach, with both the Miss Saigon revival and Les Miserables Staged Concert immortalised in this way. Now, Mary Poppins joins the lineup, and right from the off the album delivers pure magic. An amalgamation of several of PL Travers’ stories, it’s a refreshing take on a screen-to-stage adaptation, and proves that there is always room for fresh ideas.

The combination of the original Sherman Brothers’ music, and the works of British Musical Theatre pairing George Stiles and Anthony Drewe results in a perfect score. The opening sequence (Prologue / Chim Chim Cher-ee / Cherry Tree Lane / The Perfect Nanny) is bursting with nostalgia but also finds its own identity, rather than replicating previous productions. In fact, that tends to be the theme for the entire album, which is decorated with new songs, orchestrations, harmonies, lyrics and dance breaks. It’s such a treat to hear a large orchestra nowadays, particularly when shows like The Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables (the concert being an exception) have scaled back over the years, and new shows like Dear Evan Hansen and Everybody’s Talking About Jamie use just five or six pieces. For this production, William David Brohn’s orchestrations are pure joy.

As Mary, Zizi Strallen’s voice is sickly, and at times the bigger notes are unpleasant. I found myself craving the clean and crisp tones of her predecessors, Laura Michelle Kelly, Scarlett Strallen (her sister) and Caroline Sheen. There are some nice moments, but overall, the score is peppered with odd choices and strange vowel sounds, which don’t fit the brief of a woman who is “practically perfect in every way”.

Charlie Stemp is extremely lovable as Bert, Mary’s cockney friend, and there are some brilliant performances from Joseph Millson and Amy Griffiths (George and Winifred Banks). The children on this recording, Adelaide Barham and Gabriel Payne, are absolutely wonderful.

It’s no surprise that the full company numbers are such huge highlights; it’s exactly what we expect from a Disney production. Jolly Holiday sets the bar, and each big number that follows is better than the last. Step In Time is an absolute blinder, with the company going hell for leather in a tap-dancing frenzy, which the audience clearly adores.

A fresh take on a much-loved classic, and something to keep us smiling whilst we eagerly await Mary’s return to the West End next year.

Review by Ian Marshall

Rating: ★★★★
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