“But how did they do that? And what about that house, how does it go up and down?”
Leaning forward on the edge of her seat, Ryder (aged 7) is wide-eyed, soaking up every detail.
It started just outside the doors of the magnificent Civic. Having indulged in a sweet treat gelato from next door, we watched the queues of rag-tag and beautiful celebrities and regular folk approaching the red carpet. My glamour girl companion can turn it on with the best of them, so we photo-called with Norrie before entering the Wonder Palace for the official opening of the New Zealand season of Mary Poppins.
As with any show at the Civic (don’t worry, I’ll get to the magic of Mary Poppins shortly!), the joy begins with entering that decadent foyer, looking up at the chandeliers and climbing the staircase. Along the way, I point out carved elephants with small, shining details and before too long, Ryder has taken over the tour, pointing out the parts that catch her eye.
My philosophical statement is that wherever possible, kids should have the opportunity to experience theatre like this – other-worldly surroundings, amazing production and a truly beautiful show while they are young enough to be enchanted with how it all happens, believing in the magic for just a little while.
So.. onto the magic. The recreation of Mary Poppins’ iconic arrival to Cherry Tree Lane is just one of the minor acrobatic stunts that thrill. So cleverly staged with scaled props, moving parts and clever lighting, the original special effects of the film version are far more engaging on the stage than the screen. Falling rain, flying birds – each brought further wonder and appreciation from the audience.
The characterization leaps from PL Travers pages, the original movie and onto stage thanks to a remarkable cast and precise stage direction. Mrs Brill, the abrupt housekeeper played by Sally Anne Upton and Bert (Matt Lee) deliver the supporting humor in moments of gravitas – it’s easy to forget that at it’s heart this is the story of a family in trouble, trying to find out how to get through it together, while Mary Poppins is exquisitely brought to life by the “rosy cheeked and fairly pretty” Rachel Wallace.
It’s a significant achievement for New Zealand to play host to players of their quality, in an outstanding Disney show. It hopefully signals the entry of New Zealand onto the world stage as a destination for theatre of this scale and calibre. Certainly The Edge team have proved we have the class and quality of support to warrant it. Now all that’s required is for people to heed the call, embrace the magic and buy tickets. It’s worth every penny and initial signs show demand is there, with an extended season into December already released. With the exception of The Lion King, (I was lucky enough to actually see it in New York), this is the most complete and stunning show I’ve seen to date.
Not to be neglected are the toe-tapping tunes delivered with fervor and enthusiasm by a supporting chorus with Step in Time (a personal favorite as it cleverly moved the show between scenes, a triumph of well-written musical theatre), Chim Chim Cher-ree, Just A Spoonful of Sugar and of course, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.
Special mention to the amazing cast of eight young actors, who play the Banks children whom undoubtedly from time to time, steal the show from underneath Mary Poppins’ practically perfect feet.
So – back to Ryder’s thoughts, which sum it up quite nicely.
“I would tell people they should go because it’s really great, it has good characters, the story is quite good and my favourite part is at the end, oh – but I don’t want to ruin the surprise. They should just go, because it’s really magical.”
The Civic, Auckland
Sat 13 October – 16 December 2012