Magical, colourful, spectacular, imaginative, magnificent, dazzling - there simply aren’t enough superlatives in the English language to describe the latest staging of the enduring musical Mary Poppins.
Perhaps a new one could be concocted - how about supercalifragilisticexpialidocious?
This was entertainment with a capital E, and for all ages - us older folk who remember watching the movie over and over as youngsters and today’s smartphone generation who are Poppins newbies.
It is more than 50 years since the enigmatic nanny landed on the Banks family in the iconic Disney film and I would be the first the say leave well alone when it comes to transferring such classics to the stage. Can they ever really live up to long-held expectations?
In this case, the original cast of Julie Andrews as Poppins and Dick Van Dyke, with his famously awful Cockney accent, in the role of Bert, the happy-go-lucky chimney sweep, were so synonymous with the characters that surely they could never be equalled, never mind surpassed.
But in Zizi Strallen and Matt Lee, they have surely met their match. Zizi, in particular, was remarkable - with her perfect poise, her perfect diction, her perfect movement, her perfect acting, her perfect singing voice, her perfect expression, she was practically perfect in every way. In fact, after the show, I overheard one member of the audience say that she was better than Mary Poppins - I think I know what she meant, and I agree! Zizi was born to be Poppins.
She brought a new charm to the role, but also an ever so slightly sinister edge that was missing from Julie Andrews’ sugar-sweet portrayal. She was endearing and captivating and on both occasions when she left the Banks household you felt she had left you. Her stage presence was immense, from her spectacular entrance to her final, triumphant departure, soaring above the heads of the audience.
Teaming up again with the country’s top choreographer, Sir Matthew Bourne, after her successful appearance in The Car Man tour which also called at the Theatre Royal recently, her dancing was absolutely brilliant.
Matt Lee also excelled in that department - his tap routines in the amazing Step in Time number were unbelievable, even walking up the side of the stage and dancing upside-down from the ceiling at one point. Matt was all smiles, effervescent and jolly good fun - and his Cockney lilt was more convincing than Van Dyke’s - not bad for an Australian!
The supporting cast were likewise very strong. The two adorable children, 11-year-old Verity Biggs and Lewis Fernée, nine, are surely stars of the future. They confidently breezed through the show, with faultless performances as Jane and Michael Banks.
Neil Roberts and Rebecca Lock were an ideal match as their parents, George and Winifred, while Wendy Ferguson and Blair Anderson brought great comic timing to the roles of the cook Mrs Brill and butler Robertson Ay.
There were so many highlights in the production, it would be difficult to include them in one review, but my favourites included the song Jolly Holiday, during which the entire set changed from drabness to scintillating colours. It was awesome mixture of ballet-dancing statues, vibrant costumes and even a jigging Queen Victoria. If the show had finished after that early number, we still would have left happy.
The furious battle between the two witch-like nannies, Poppins and Miss Andrew, who was superbly and powerfully played by Penelope Woodman, during Brimstone and Treacle was equally enjoyable. Miss Andrew, in the green ‘Brimstone’ corner, finally succumbed to the trickery of Poppins in the pink ‘spoonful of sugar’ corner.
Grainne Renihan’s tear-jerkingly beautiful rendition of Feed the Birds and the splendid Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, complete with YMCA-style hand movements, which brought the house down (take a bow Wreh-asha Walton for a sparkling performance as Mrs Corry), were moments to savour.
In fact, everything about Cameron Mackintosh’s production, under the direction of stage and film director Richard Eyre, was truly superb - the special effects, the magic, the costumes, the lighting, the orchestra, the sound and especially Matthew Bourne’s choreography. Rarely will you see a company move in such unison through highly complicated routines.
Don’t let Poppins fly out of town before you get to see it.
The show plays at Newcastle Theatre Royal until Saturday, October 29. Tickets are from £22.50 and can be purchased at www.theatreroyal.co.uk or from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 08448 11 21 21 (calls cost 7ppm plus your phone company’s access charge).