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Mary Poppins at Birmingham Hippodrome - Review

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by Alison Brinkworth (subscribe)
Freelance journalist in Birmingham with a passion for the dynamic theatre, art, food and fashion scene in Britain's 'Second City'.
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There's a song in this Mary Poppins show where the cast sing Anything Can Happen, and sure enough it does - whether it's the super nanny flying with her umbrella over the audience or chimney-sweep Bert tap-dancing miraculously upside down along the top of the stage.

mary poppins, Birmingham Hippodrome, musicals, theatre review
It's a jolly holiday with Mary... Mary Poppins is at Birmingham Hippodrome


Despite going strong in theatres for over 11 years, winning a throng of awards and seen by more than 11 million people worldwide, the show has been enhanced with new sets and scenes.

This improved version returns to Birmingham and gives families the chance to see it at Birmingham Hippodrome over the Easter school holidays as it will be performed from March 9 until April 26.

The story follows magical nanny Mary Poppins as she brings happiness to the troubled Banks family. She appears out of nowhere to look after badly-behaved children Jane and Michael and teach them, as well as their emotionally-detached banker father George and bored mother Winifred, about the important things in life.

We meet the Banks' family in their home, which is appears like a huge finely-crafted dolls house, opening and closing to reveal various exquisite rooms.

mary poppins, Birmingham Hippodrome, musicals, theatre review
Colourful costumes and big dance sequences in Mary Poppins


From early on, the special effects make an impact and continue to dazzle right through to the final scene. It's these effects that make Mary Poppins such a magical experience and are bound to leave children open mouthed in wonder.

Beds make themselves up on their own, huge objects are pulled out of Poppin's carpet bag and the nanny even shoots up a stair bannister. It's a treat for all ages.

But the real beauty of this Disney and Cameron Mackintosh production is that it seems to have taken a leaf out of Poppins' own perfectionist habits as the attention to detail makes it practically perfect.

It's also got a stellar cast that embody the characters they are creating. No more so than Zizi Strallen in the lead role. As Mary Poppins, she ensures the nanny is prim and exact but also likeable. It helps that Strallen is such a strong dancer and all-round performer who has the likes of Cats, Matthew Bourne's Car Man and Dirty Dancing on her CV.

mary poppins, Birmingham Hippodrome, musicals, theatre review
Mary Poppins is a well loved musical for all the family


Then there is Australian Matt Lee as Bert, the lovable chimney-sweep. He's well versed in the role as he has been playing Bert since Mary Poppins opened in Australia, which won him the prestigious Helpmann Award for Best Actor in a Musical.

Choreographer Matt was on the judging panel of Australia's So You Think You Can Dance, so dancing is his forte - and he shows this off in the remarkable Step in Time chimney sweepers scene where he gradually tap dances up the side of the stage, across the top and back down again. It's a stand out moment.

Downton Abbey creator and Oscar-winning screenwriter Julian Fellowes is behind the book for the show and has given plenty of depth to the characters thought up by PL Travers.

The fact the story is close, but not identical, to the famous film starring Julie Andrews also works in its favour as it has room to create fresh dance scenes and modern sequences with vibrant characters like Mrs Corry - a mystical sweet shop owner with a Caribbean inspired set that leads into the song Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

mary poppins, Birmingham Hippodrome, musicals, theatre review
Chimney sweepers are part of the action in the show-stopping Mary Poppins


It's these big song and dance routines that are the essence of the memorable show. They have been beautifully choreographed and the cast perform them in time to perfection.

Well-loved songs like Let's Go Fly A Kite, Spoonful Of Sugar, Jolly Holiday and Feed The Birds bring back fond memories, but new songs by the Olivier award-winning British team of George Stiles and Anthony Drewe are also well received and fit in smoothly. Songs like Brimstone And Treacle to accompany the addition of a new evil nanny Miss Andrew in the story is a wonderful extra.

Every now and then, a show comes along that is so spectacular and of such high quality that it can't be faulted. Mary Poppins is one of those shows, where from start to finish it manages to surprise, excite and dazzle with dance routines, sets, costumes and most of all special effects.

It's a wondrous and magical family show that you won't want to miss.

Rating: 10/10

Mary Poppins
Birmingham Hippodrome
March 9 to April 26, 2016
Tickets cost from 25 to 60 by calling 0844 338 5000 or through the Birmingham Hippodrome website.

Audio described performance - Wednesday 13 April at 7.30pm
Captioned performance - Tuesday 19 April at 7.30pm
Signed performance - Thursday 21 April at 7.30pm.

Mary Poppins originally opened in 2004 and ran in the West End for three years and over 1,250 performances. During this time it won the Olivier Award for Best Theatre Choreography and Best Set Design as well as the Evening Standard Award for Best Set Design and the Variety Club Award for Best Musical. When it opened in America, the Broadway production ran for over six years and won the Tony Award for Best Set Design.

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Why? Because when Mary holds your hand, you feel so grand!
When: Until April 26, 2016
Phone: 0844 338 5000
Where: Birmingham Hippodrome
Cost: 25 - 60
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